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Sometimes It is the Small Things That Lead to Suicide

chronic pain

Ask the average person why people commit suicide and they will give you all sorts of explanations. Many people think there are signs depressives display when contemplating suicide. While that can be the case, often the person seemed “fine” before killing themselves, or the “signs” were so subtle that they were overlooked. Depressives often fade into the fabric of day-to-day life. They become like furniture, always in their places. When this happens, people miss the signs, often tragically so. I know my wife and family love me, yet I also know that they are so used to me being sick, disabled, and in pain that I always seem “normal” to them.

Several days ago, I attended the Defiance Pride Parade. While I can walk short distances using a cane, I can no longer walk long distances without the use of a wheelchair or motorized cart. The degeneration in my spine, hips, shoulders, and arms, makes it difficult, if not impossible, for me to operate a wheelchair without help. Polly or one of my sons usually pushes my sorry ass around. My youngest son got the privilege and honor to push me along the parade route. The road was rough in spots, causing me excruciating pain. I knew this is the way it would be, but supporting LGBTQ people mattered more to me than pain. I endured.

A dear friend of mine told me that he could tell I was in a lot of pain. I tried to hide my suffering, but my face said to him that my pain levels were high. I appreciated the fact that he understood what I was going through on that day. The next day, we had dinner, a monthly event for myself and three other men. We now call ourselves “The Woke Mob.” Getting together with them is one of the highlights of each month. I rarely get out of the house these days. Thanks to declining motor skills, I can no longer drive. The last time I drove an automobile was in March 2020 — over three years ago.

After dinner, my friend said to me, “you look better today.” I smiled and replied, “narcotics, and the use of modern pharmaceuticals.” You see, I always want to “look better.” I don’t want to be pitied. I want to be perceived as the virile, strong-as-an-ox Bruce of yesteryear, even though I know this is the absurd fantasy of a crippled, broken-down old man.

My pain levels were the same on both days, but what was different on the second day was a significant increase in suicidal thoughts. My friend couldn’t know this. I didn’t give off any signs that suggested that I was struggling with making it another day. Even when talking with my therapist, it is not always easy for her to suss out whether I have increased suicidal thoughts. I see her tomorrow, which is good. The edge of the cliff is getting too close for comfort.

Many people wrongly think that those with suicidal ideation have exact plans as to how they will do themselves in. While I have a good idea of what means I will use to kill myself, I really don’t sit around thinking about it. It is the small, insignificant things in life that often drive my suicidal thoughts. Let me explain.

My life has a rhythm to it; what I call my “new normal.” This normal changes over time, as disease and pain continue to ravage my body. Two years ago, when an MRI and CT scan of my thoracic spine revealed:

  • Disc herniation (T7,T8)
  • Disc herniation (T6,T7)
  • Central spinal canal stenosis (T9/T10, T10/T11)
  • Foraminal stenosis (T5,T6)
  • Disc degeneration/spondylosis (T1/T2 through T10/T11)
  • Facet Arthropathy throughout the spine, particularly at T2/T3, T3/T4, T5/T6, and T7/T8 through the T12/L1 levels.
  • Hypertrophic arthropathy at T9/T10

I adapted to my new normal. I had already been diagnosed with widespread osteoarthritis (joint pain), fibromyalgia (muscle pain, weakness, and fatigue), and gastroparesis (a debilitating, incurable stomach disease). I also have diabetes and high blood pressure — both of which are well-managed. On any given day, I spend my time managing my health, writing, and spending time with my family. Some days, I have doctor’s appointments or we go grocery shopping. On other days, I try to do things around the house or in the yard. Our backyard is teeming with wildlife and feral/stray cats. I enjoy watching them from the living room window. We have a new outside cat, Binx is his name. You know, the strays that don’t go away. He and I are now friends, so I will spend some time petting him or feeding him tuna fish. This is my normal.

Typically, I have a four- to five-hour window to productively work. After that, I lose my starch, and I retire to my recliner for the night and read, watch TV, or cheer on the Cincinnati Reds (I watch every game). Polly comes home from work at 2:30 am. Then comes bed, the worst part of my day. Yet, I have come to accept that this is my “normal.” It takes me twelve hours to get seven or eight hours of sleep, and even then I am never rested. At best, I live to see another day. Tired, fatigued, in pain — but alive.

It is what it is, a cliché I often tell myself as I try to navigate a life of pain and suffering. However, there are unexpected things that happen, small things that can quickly increase suicidal thoughts. My life is like a spinning plate full of food held on one finger above my head. Okay, I can handle this, I tell myself, but then along comes someone or something that is thrown on my plate, and my life spins out of control. All of a sudden, I find myself thinking about whether I want to keep living. But it was such a small thing that caused your plate to spin out of control. And therein lies the problem. When small, insignificant things accumulate, collectively they can be overwhelming. A bowel problem, incontinency, phantom smells attack, blurred vision, Morton’s neuroma flare-up, a fall, memory problems, unexpected bills, not hearing from my children or seeing my grandchildren as often as I want (need), edema so bad I can’t put on my shoes, getting out of the house so I can attend a sprint car race, only to get hit in the head with a rock thrown off one of the car’s wheels, stepping on Legos, tripping over the cat, finding out I have a yeast infection from taking an antibiotic for a toe infection, losing my glasses, being so weak I can’t lower the footrest on my recliner, eating food at a restaurant that immediately causes me to vomit, finding out someone ate the last of the peanut butter, or a host of other small things. To the healthy, and to the strong, these circumstances may seem insignificant; and they are when taken in isolation. However, when it takes every bit of your strength and energy to just get through the day, small things tend to overwhelm you and leave you questioning whether you want to live another day.

This is not a plea for help, nor is it an opportunity for readers to send me unsolicited medical advice. Please don’t. If my friend and I had more time together, maybe I would have shared with him where I really am in life; how close to the cliff I am actually standing. Or maybe not.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    Wow. Thanks for sharing this.

    There are many people that appreciate you and what you do. You have helped many people.

    I’m sorry to hear about all your pain. I wish there was something we could do to make it better. If it is any comfort, we are here for you. And we hope that, in some small way, the pleasure of knowing that many people appreciate you and care about you somehow balances out at least some of the pain you feel.

    Do find time to rest and enjoy what you can in this life. Take care of yourself. We wish you the best.

  2. Avatar

    Well, this is one of those posts that demands a response, and yet I know that I have little to nothing to offer in response. We are former Christians of the same age, you and I, but beyond that, much of what we have in common is going to be by degrees – back problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, photography, cats, suicidal thoughts.
    So, I’ll just offer a couple quotes:

    Mysteriously, wonderfully, I bid farewell to what goes, I greet what comes; for what comes cannot be denied, and what goes cannot be detained.

    The worst thing about growing old is that you will likely not live long enough to celebrate the death of all the people that you hate.
    ~me (2020)

  3. Avatar

    I truly get this point and understand, though not from a physical standpoint. There are many challenges that can overwhelm people and put them into bad places. I am sure some people will know what challenges me, even people on this blog can probably figure that out. But there is more that anyone, even those closest to me, will know.

    It is often those little things that hit hard. Innocent comments or events that can’t be controlled, the relentless drumbeat of negativity and hate, just reading something or seeing something that causes hurt. But in most cases no one sees it, or knows where my mind is in those moments. It remains masked so people don’t worry. It remains masked because people will not understand.

    It’s not a looming cliff for me, but is a darkness that is always chasing me. Sometimes close, sometimes far away.

    But I am still here. The world will have to continue to suffer my presence and bitchiness for a while longer.

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, thank you for sharing this. I wish I knew how to relieve your pain. Your suffering is evidence that there is no justice in the world (let alone a just God), only the love, empathy and concern of other individual people,

    Many years ago, a dear friend—a much better human being than I ever could be—committed suicide. Intellectually, I know I couldn’t have prevented it. I also know that while that person had gender identity issues like mine (and which I wouldn’t deal with for many more years), it may not have been the “trigger.” It might have been the tinder, so to speak, but something else might’ve been the spark. Or there may not have been a spark.

    In spite of what my therapist and others have told me, I still sometimes blame myself. Oh, and I have suicidal thoughts. A social worker I know says, “Anyone who tells you they’ve never thought about killing themself is lying.”

    Sage—I love your analogy. Like you, there’s no cliff for me. It’s more like a shadow. Sometimes it’s closer, more visible and darker than at other times.

  5. Avatar

    Bruce, thank you for sharing, and I wish I had a way to fix this all fir you. In fact, I am sure that all of your family, friends, and the vast majority of your readers wish the same. (I say the vast majority because we all know there are some readers who relish the notion that their favorite deity is punishing Bruce for apostasy). I have had some Suicidal thoughts from time to time, but not enough to even formulate a plan, much less act. In the past 3 years, I have been directly involved in getting help for suicidal family members. I have talked with them before, during, and after their episodes (for lack of a better word). Both people had different situations, but thru sounded the same when they were suicidal – basically, they were just done – and yes, it was the pile-on of things. I debated what was the ethical thing to do – let them do it, or intervene – and both times I chose to intervene so that they coukd get to a place where their mental health would allow them to make an informed and rational choice.

    I don’t have anything to offer other than “I hear you”, “you matter”, and “I wish I could fix it”. ❤️

  6. Avatar

    Husband and I were just talking about this. He is undergoing a new, unpleasant health issue that is life-threatening. And the drugs prescribed cause him intense agony. At this point, he and his PCP have figured out a course so he is more optimistic. But he mentioned feeling so bad in the last couple months that he thought about suicide.

    We all would be sad if you killed yourself, Bruce. But to go through the pain you are going through? You deserve to allow yourself be at peace and no pain. I will continue to hope that you still have happier times to come.

  7. Avatar
    Kathleen Rezansoff

    Dear Bruce – I am a huge fan of your writing although I do not comment very often. Please know that I am thinking of you and hope that your situation will improve. Besides your family and friends – readers here need your insight and wit! A lot of people are rooting for you!!!!!

  8. Avatar
    John S.

    Bruce, thank you for sharing this. There are many who struggle and suffer in silence who hopefully will read this and know that they are not alone.
    Reading your account reminds me that our humanity is ultimately what unites us.
    For what it is worth, your journey has inspired me personally to look at my own relationship with religion, and to look at my own attitudes and behavior towards others. If I cannot strive to be a decent human being to everyone, then I am a failure at any other identity I claim to have.
    To continue writing and publishing while dealing with your medical problems is a testament to your commitment to help those who may feel trapped by their religious circumstances, as well as trying to help those who need kicked in the rear and told to stop being a jackass for Jesus.
    I wish you the very best and a speedy recovery from your pain!

  9. Avatar

    I see you and hope you find moments of relief. It is scary to read this, as my husband recently had similar thoughts and plans for the first time that I am aware of. He too is 66. His issues aren’t physical, but still very real to him.
    I wish I could send you strength, but instead I can only leave you with the knowledge that a massive black hole will be left in the lives of everyone who loves you, if you decided to finally leave.
    Thank you for all of the common sense and joy you have gifted your readers with over the years.

    • Avatar
      Yulya Sevelova

      Oh, Bruce ! I KNOW that feeling all too well. Some of my reasons are also physical, because it’s frightening stuff. Others are because my circumstances didn’t improve in time, it was too late to matter, though I’m grateful that it happened at least- but thanks to crazy policies, one can’t count on being secure anymore. When I think on why I should check out, I’m reminded of a couple of long term goals I’ve had : doing my part to end homelessness, getting other homeless people to directly engage leaders who make policy( no decisions about us, without us)and getting patched up enough to go overseas and join up with other Russians to take down those nasty,corrupt thugs running Russia. I can’t think of a better way to go out, if I must go out. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to do this. The news over there is the starting gun I’ve been waiting for. There’s a lot of pressure on people to kill themselves because of the horrible policies, laws in place from Neoliberalism. For example : an email was leaked from a memo within the LAPD, about a scheduled ” homeless camp cleanup” that was supposed to be hushed up, no warnings. One Brittney Guiterrez was looking forward to ” arresting everyone and throwing away all their possessions,” without warning- which itself is breaking the law, because a cleanup is announced via posting notices for a specific date. You do get a warning first. A cop watchdog found out about it,and captured that email. He’s a hero ! Because the only way to end homelessness is to fill the housing stock up to pre- 1980 levels. Not arrests, unless it’s for actual criminals. And at least half are NOT. Most homeless people just can’t afford rents anymore. It’s stuff like this that makes me want to keep fighting. You’re fighting religious hucksters,and threats to children ! As well as having a safe place for victims of spiritual abuse. You’re needed. My hope is, you’ll find the treatments that will help you keep going. I found your blog when I really needed it ! The things I faced five years ago, no one else ‘ got ‘ me. Many hugs to you and Polly.❤️❤️

  10. Avatar

    We are with you, Bruce, as far as we can be. I would wish you some relief from all your pain but I knoe it isn’t that easy. Please stay with us for as long as you’re able.

  11. Avatar

    Bruce, these posts always make me so sad. It also makes me feel foolish when I complain about all the little irritants in my own life. Possibly, you should have a suicide plan. Studies have shown that people who have access to assisted suicide drugs and the knowledge to employ them are less likely to actually employ them. It can be a comfort just knowing that it is there. Maybe something to bring up at therapy anyway.

  12. Avatar
    Burr Deming

    Sorry to hear about all this.
    Of course I join with others in hoping for relief for you, and for better times.

  13. Avatar

    I have gone through dark periods where I contemplated suicide. Besides all the health and money problems, we were evicted, on the holidays, in the middle of the pandemic. Both my husband and I were seriously thinking of dying together. Fortunately, life got better. I know your health can’t improve much, and it sucks. Part of my former job as a home healthcare worker was sitting with the dying. I watched my mom die in hospice. It’s never pretty and peaceful like the movies.
    I can only suggest that you enjoy what you can, while you can. My fibromyalgia is getting worse, and nothing pisses me off more than those who won’t accept that I will never get better, nor be pain free ever again. You are much worse off than me health wise, but you are far better off family wise. Enjoy everything as much as you can. That’s all one can do. And remember, you are loved and respected.

  14. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Listen, your sorry ass can kiss my thankful support goodbye if you toss it instead of writing it.
    I sure appreciate your voice, Almighty, and that you have learned to share with a rare honesty. That you still insist on going out to watch grown men dress up to chase their balls and swing their wood, is something troubling but I am letting it go for now because I have to go to work and simply don’t have time to bug you further just now.

  15. Avatar

    Bruce, I hope you are doing better. My husband is going through some harder times with more serious health issues, and it is a lonely time.

  16. Avatar

    It made me sad to read this post and I have thought about it a lot. You mean so much to so many people. We all hope that this continues for a long time. We hope that the many people that love you encourages you to keep on going. We hope that somehow our community here helps to make it all worthwhile.

    That being said, there is a time and a place for some people to end it all. I certainly hope that doesn’t apply to you, but that is not my decision. Ultimately, you are the only one who knows the pain, and the only one that can decide. We respect your decision.

    If you haven’t already seen this video, and have the strength to view it, I think it would be good for you to see it: . It is well done, and walks through the last days of a man who reached the end. It would probably benefit you to hear his story. It seems to me that the procedure shown in this video is, unfortunately, something that needs to be made available to some people in certain circumstances.

    I hope that, hearing his story, you find this is not yet where you are.

    Assisted suicide is a very controversial subject. Many would benefit from your clear, rational discourse on the
    decision and when and where it should be available.

    Again, we wish you the best. Stay safe. We are here for you.

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Bruce Gerencser