I have two friends who have fought their respective illnesses for many years. Recently one lost his battle.
Unfortunately both the way he died (suicide) and his illness (a mental illness) mean that some don’t see him as a successful warrior. Common reception of the news of his death in the newspaper was “mrniceguy211 2 days ago− Sad stuff, don't know the dude but its sad when someone life is in such shambles that suicide as the only way out”.
However, to those who have known this friend they realize that this sort of reaction is as facile as it is stupid. Both of these brothers are faithful Christian men.
We have known our friend who just died since college days. He went out as a self-supporting missionary to an Asian country. He met and married a Christian national there. They have three sons.
While there in that country he suffered from his illness and eventually, since medication alone could not control it, he decided to return to the US with his family. He had been an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the Asian country. He continued to work as an ESL teacher in a small community college in the US.
He was known by all as a kind, gentle Christian man whose heart to reach the world was huge. He and his wife sponsored international student gatherings in their home.
Yet he often asked those of us who knew him to pray for him. He suffered debilitating panic and anxiety attacks. He tried many medications, therapies, counseling, etc, but nothing seemed to help.
He had been weaned on and off various medications hoping to find one that would cure or at least contain his illness.
However, none was found. When he was recently going through the process of being weaned off one medication he tragically did what many do: committed suicide. Suicidal ideation, i.e. thoughts that one should consider suicide and how to commit suicide, is common during this phase of trying to get off one medication and onto another.1 Typically he didn’t go on a shooting rampage (which is extremely rare whatever the media might say), rather he took his own life jumping from a bridge.
That he was not “himself” when he did this is clear to anyone who knew him. His illness drove him to do something irrational that he could not control. It was his illness and NOT a volitional choice.
He had no more control over this than a person who dies of cancer does.
Yet society does not judge him so, at least those who didn’t really know him and those ignorant of mental illnesses. Those who have suffered from mental illnesses themselves and the relatives, of those who have, understand.
Unfortunately society still stigmatizes mental illness, so that those who suffer are either forced to guilty silence or held in contempt as weak or weird by others. Our brother fought valiantly for 20 plus years, but he finally succumbed. His brother, who wrote his obituary, said, “N ran into Jesus’ arms”. Whether our friend was running from something in his head, which disease made seem real, or whether he was “unbalanced”, he was so because he suffered from an illness, which like many illnesses isn’t always completely or successfully treatable.
Our other friend has battled with a form of leukemia, known as hairy celled leukemia. For 20 years or so he had given himself daily shots of interferon, a drug to suppress his immune system, so that his system would stop killing off his red blood cells. As is the case with many medications eventually either they lose their effectiveness or in this case it was “too effective”, i.e. it killed his immune system.
Now our friend has no immune system. Any simple infection could potentially kill him.
So, there was no option, but to go through chemotherapy and radiation. He went through many debilitating rounds of chemotherapy. After that he was matched for a donor for bone marrow cells.
When a donor was found, they “killed” his bone marrow and implanted the donor’s healthy cells. The doctors’ hope is that the new bone marrow will “take” and that it will begin to produce healthy red blood cells and restore his immune system.
This friend has passed the 100 day mark, which is both a miracle and a cause for rejoicing, but he is not out of the woods yet. He faces a lot more in the way of treatments and follow-up.
He recently celebrated his 65th birthday. We have known him now 29 years. (We met the year Beth was born.)
He has always been a cut up. He loves corny jokes and laughing. His outlook on life is always positive and he never seems to take himself seriously.
His humor has no doubt helped in his recovery at various times and his continued life among us. We pray he lives 20 more years.
He has been an elder in the church where I was an intern many years ago. He is a faithful husband and loving father. He is avid supporter of world missions and shares his love for Jesus with everyone he meets.
Both brothers are warriors. One sadly lost his battle. The other battles on. Both deserve nothing, but respect and commendation.
It’s too bad that ignorance and fear keep many from recognizing the courage of those who battle mental illnesses. Are those who battle mental illness the last lepers? These days those who suffer from AIDS are considered valiant and heroes, while those who suffer from mental illnesses continue to be ostracized and pilloried.
It’s my privilege to have known both these brothers a long time. I admire them both. I know that those who have known them both do too.
1.Second, weaning off the drug incorrectly can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms are not unlike withdrawing from severe alcoholism, and may lead to increased anxiety, depression, psychosis, seizures, hypersensitivity, and possibly suicide.