Survival as Neighbor-Love

Survival as Neighbor-Love

September 27, 2018 5 Comments

For the last sixteen months I have been occupied with the task of survival.

I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar II, and the odds against my continuing to live are steep. Fifty percent of people with my condition will attempt suicide at least once. Fifty percent. That statistic is utterly daunting, not least because I have often felt the urge to do away with myself. I admitted myself to the hospital a year ago when I knew that I could no longer keep myself safe. I stayed there for one hellish week.

And if I keep drawing breath? The reason that I have felt the compulsion to kill myself is that my life can be utterly miserable for long periods at a time. I know of no reliable measurement for the pain felt by someone who is mentally ill, but I do know that if I consider my life not to be worth living, it is because I am suffering immensely. Suicide is only an attractive escape for someone who simply cannot bear the pain of existing any longer.

 But yet there is hope. There is not only hope that the depression will end and that life will again be pleasant, but hope that my existence in this world is fulfilling some critical purpose—a divine appointment of sorts. I use the word divine because neighbor-love, Christ’s second great commandment, can take the form of mere existence. Crucially, my continued survival is not primarily about me, but about the ones who I am called to love.

My wife, Laurie. My family. My in-laws. My friends. They tell me that the world is a better place with me here. And when I look into their eyes I see the sort of love that would grieve if I no longer existed. When I tell Laurie about my thoughts of suicide, she tells me, “You can’t do that to me.” Of course, she is right.

 From time to time I see myself in the image of Christ crucified. Today I see myself stripped of the abilities I would like to have. I want to work, I want to be able to make appointments without worrying that I will have to cancel because of a panic attack, I want to be able to attend to others’ problems without being so preoccupied with my own. In short, I want to be less vulnerable—less contingent.

 But contingency is my lot as a creature and particularly as a bipolar patient. I cannot change this. What I can do is to make the choice for life over and over again. I write “over and over again” because I find myself repeatedly in such dire straits that the choice to live is no longer passive and unconscious, but active and pressing. And as long as it is pressing, the primary way in which my love for others is expressed must be the choice to draw breath.

 The ultimate expression of love is the sacrifice of one life for another. To see the plight of another and to trade your life for theirs—this is the love of Christ. But now I am called to another love—not the relinquishing of life, but the courageous fight against death. When misery has penetrated my being and the task of life feels torturous and unnatural, it is in choosing to live that I love others. This choice is mine, but it is not about me. It is about those who love me.

My lot in life is bound to the well-being of many others. It is for their sake that I choose to breathe, over and over again.

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Henry Williams graduated with a degree in philosophy and German from Wheaton College in 2017, and blogs about faith and mental health at roadcalledhope.com. He is also the author of the newly released book, A Bipolar Gospel (Luminare Press). He is the husband of Laurie Harris and lives in Newberg, OR.

 
You'll also enjoy Friends for the Journey.

 

Photo by Gwen Weustink on Unsplash



5 Responses

Micky W
Micky W

August 17, 2020

Dear Henry,

I came upon this piece after searching for your blog.
Know that you are never really alone, and thought of fondly even after all these years and such a long distance. I don’t know if you will ever read this comment, but you’re in my thoughts from rainy Netherlands.

Madeline Twooney
Madeline Twooney

October 02, 2018

Henry, l’ll write in German, as you have a degree in it: Ihre Wörter haben mich zutiefst bewegt. Es erfordert viel Kraft über dieses Thema zu schreiben und sich zu offenbaren und ich weiß es sehr zu schätzen. Es ist eine mutige Entscheidung von Ihnen, sich für das Leben zu entscheiden, weil Sie Ihre Familie so sehr lieben.

Henry, your vulnerability and bravery moves me. Thank you for choosing life – you are precious and loved and the world needs you and the beautiful words you write. God bless.

Jendi Reiter
Jendi Reiter

October 01, 2018

This is very brave and beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I’ve added your book to my wishlist for the adult education group I teach at church. Also, your author photo is very stylish and quirky – made me smile!

Michael Kozubek
Michael Kozubek

October 01, 2018

Courageous and interesting writer!

Susannah Q Pratt
Susannah Q Pratt

September 30, 2018

This is a remarkably brave piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it.

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