Suicide and Reincarnation

JMJ

LOCKDOWN HAS LEFT ME Dealing with a mild depression. A medical evaluation has indicated this is not so bad as to require medication, but rather a bit of self-management. I need to get out more, albeit safely, and take steps to mitigate the issues that might arise. A mild depression, indeed! If this is mild I’m thankful that God is merciful to me: there are those greatly in need of prayers and grace! Even in a mild depression, the first question every professional asks (and a few lay folks) is “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” I’m not. But why? I mean, apart from God’s mercy, why am I not experiencing what seems to be a very common symptom? Lockdown has left me dealing with a mild introspection as well. To be frank, this mild depression is something I identify, having told my therapist just a couple of weeks ago that in the past such an episode might result in an outpouring of poetry. I recognize the symptoms. What did I do in the past? Did I have such thoughts then? I know I did once (in the Spring of 1985) but only once?

Wrestling through the introspection, the answer came to me that – quite possibly – here is the answer to why I’ve never lived in the same place for a very long time.

Certainly, it is easy to move around the corner as I did recently. But most of my movements have been across the continent whether east to west or north to south. I moved between New York and Georgia multiple times as a child with my family, but I continued this pattern as an adult in the 80s. I also moved from NYC to SF, then to Asheville, then to Buffalo, back to SF, to the Monastery, to Alabama, to SF. What if each of these moves – and some shorter moves as well – was a species of suicide? Frankly, I think they were.

Although I have a real rich resume, I have a somewhat shallow network of friends. Each move resulted in a loss of emotional networks – yes – but also a loss of emotional baggage. I used moves to get away from jobs, relationships, and situations that I didn’t feel like dealing with (or continuing to deal with). I used moves to escape dysfunctional imbalances that I did not want to address. I used moves to escape bullies that I did not want to challenge. This is called, in Twelve-Step work, “the geographical solution”. As is discussed in such programs, it never actually works: wherever you move you’re still there. Sure, moving across the country can extract you from the present struggles, making it possible to start over. The thing is it’s less a new beginning than a reincarnation: one is still the same person, with the same baggage, perhaps painted differently and with a new set of tags, but all still the same. I used moves to, essentially kill myself. But when I came back I was always still me.

Part of this conversation is coming into focus with recent events in my vocational journey – a psych eval, beginning to meet with a therapist, and continuing work on my book on SSA in the Church. It goes further back though. My monastic journey was in the Benedictine tradition. In the Rule of St Benedict, to the traditional monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience is added a fourth: stability. In that journey, I discerned that Canon City, CO, was not where I was going to make that vow, “Make my stability” as the Benedictine line goes. In fact, it was to San Francisco that I made such a vow: here is my spiritual home. When I moved back to SF in 2016, I committed to not leaving, to actually being here (absent some huge and clear sign to the contrary), and to being local, here and now.

At the top of the year in 2019 at a meeting with my Spiritual Director, I spoke of desiring to actually finish things I’d started – to follow through on projects or relationships to the end, good or bad, and to see what happens, finally, when I make promises and keep them. Yes, it’s always today, but one needs roots to have a future. So the only way to keep promises has proven to be in the same place long enough to keep them. The only way to grow healthy relationships is to stay in the same place long enough to have fights. The only way to have an enjoyable job is to stay in the same place long enough to be challenged.

I have mentioned some of the problems that caused me to move. Those problems always seemed to follow me. The relationships that I tried to flee were always the same, somehow. They were recreated with new people – but they were the same. The dead end jobs that I wanted out of were always the same, somehow. I’d find a new company, yes, or work in a new field, but it was the same. It comes to me now but perhaps the problems that caused the relationships and dead-end jobs were internal rather than external. While these internal issues were easily smoothed over in the chaos of a transcontinental migration, after three or four years of stability these problems surfaced again requiring yet another move to escape.

A vow of stability requires dealing with these problems in other ways besides movement. Stability requires a commitment to life, to actually living in a place, with people, relating, taking a stake, even pushing sometimes. It requires happening rather than being happened to. It requires a bit more of what one therapist has called a “sense of being real”. The guy who can kill himself by a yard sale and a job application sent to another state, or enter a dysfunctional (but very fun) relationship in another country via the internet, does not have a sense of being real in the here and now. There’s a reason my fraternity brothers say they can still recognize my bedroom 35 years after college. Stability requires growing up.

Lockdown, therefore, seems to be the spiritual continuation of this process of stability. Diagnostically I think it’s possible my mild depression might be only the sudden onset of normalcy and stability. This is only the fever resulting from a low-grade infection that my mental and spiritual immune system is finally dealing with after decades of running away. Rather than depression, this might just be life: adulting as the cool kids call it. At least in my current Incarnation I have finally decided to grow up.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.