Brandon Hixon, a former Idaho Republican state lawmaker, committed suicide this week. According to his ex-wife, Danielle Eirvin Hixon, Brandon was under investigation for sexually molesting two girls. Hixon was a Christian. According to Ballotpedia, Hixon described his religious views this way:
I have always been a voice in the fight against abortion. I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and I do not support gay marriage. I support the freedom of religion, and recognize that we have many different faiths and beliefs around the state and district, however, this country was founded on Christian principles and that should never be forgotten.
The former wife of an Idaho Republican state lawmaker who shot and killed himself this week says he was under investigation for molesting two girls, including a young female relative who was abused for more than 10 years. Brandon Hixon died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at his home, the Canyon County Coroner’s office told CBS affiliate KBOI.
Former colleagues at the Idaho Statehouse have offered kind words about Hixon, but his ex-wife Danielle Eirvin Hixon said the suicide robbed her family’s hopes of finding justice and closure though the legal system.
She told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that she told police about the abuse and that her husband raped and inappropriately touched one of the alleged female victims for about 11 years.
“Brandon made people believe that he was a stand-up, morally correct person,” said Hixon, who was married to the former lawmaker for 10 years until their divorce in 2016. “But behind the house walls, he would cheat on me and molested children.”
Scott Graf, spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said Wasden’s office had no comment on the investigation.
Hixon – a three-term Republican from Caldwell – had resigned from the state legislature in October after news emerged that he was the subject of a criminal investigation involving possible sexual abuse, though no details were made public.
His ex-wife said she had been told by investigators not to disclose details about the case until charges were filed against her ex-husband, but that the reason to keep the information confidential ended with his suicide. She said she and two other people had been scheduled to testify before a grand jury on Wednesday.
“I had no idea it was happening,” Danielle Eirvin Hixon said of the alleged abuse, adding that the girl who told her “kept it quiet for so long.”
The second alleged victim was not related to the lawmaker, she said, adding that she learned about that girl from the girl’s mother.
Records also show that the former lawmaker was previously the focus of a separate police investigation in 2014 after he was accused of inappropriate touching. He denied the accusations and told police he was worried they would harm his political career. It’s unknown if the new investigation, ongoing since Oct. 5, was connected to the earlier case.
Danielle Eirvin Hixon said comments by lawmakers praising her ex-husband’s character prompted her to speak up about the abuse allegations. She said she wanted people to know her side of the story.
“I say he was a coward by taking the easy way out,” she said of his suicide.
Last January, noted Scottish pastor Ian Campbell committed suicide by hanging himself after being admitted to the hospital for a drug overdose. Campbell, a member of the Free Church of Scotland — a Calvinistic sect — pastored Point Free Church in Point, Isle of Lewis. According to the Point Free website, Campbell:
contributes to the e-zine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Reformation21, and is a frequent contributor to Ligonier ministry’s Tabletalk magazine. He is a weekly columnist for the local paper, the Stornoway Gazette.
When a leading church minister died in unexplained circumstances on the Isle of Lewis, the close-knit community was in shock.
Tributes to Reverend Dr Iain D Campbell, 53, came from around the world, while shops on the island closed for his funeral in January.
But it has emerged the father-of-three hanged himself after his 54-year-old wife Anne accused him of having up to seven affairs with churchgoers at the same time.
And now she has called on their church to kick out the women for adultery – even hiring herself a public relations professional.
The Free Church of Scotland, often referred to as the ‘Wee Frees’, is investigating while the accused women are understood to be instructing lawyers to help declare their innocence.
Dr Campbell was a leading light in the church – which has strict teachings on the sanctity of marriage and ethics of suicide – in Stornoway.
The minister had been a senior official in the Free Church and minister of the Point Free Church in Lewis, which is off the Scottish mainland’s north-west coast.
A source said: ‘It is said Anne was suspicious about Iain’s activities, and confronted him at the manse [a Scottish vicarage] allegedly after finding compromising emails in his computer trash files.
‘Anne is wanting all this to go in front of a church court and for them to throw them out of the church for adultery.
‘It will cause havoc with their marriages and the entire Free Church.
‘Even though she’s a widow people are saying Iain had a difficult home life and there’s a lot of anger towards her.’
A source close to senior church figures said: ‘There was never a whisper of a rumour about affairs until after he died – on such a close-knit island they would have been very difficult to keep secret.
‘Yet Anne has supplied names of these alleged mistresses to the church. If she is right, he had been leading an extraordinary double life for years.
‘This is a widow talking about her own late husband.
‘It’s now in the hands of senior Free Church ministers on the island – James Maciver, who conducted the funeral, and Callum Macleod.
‘This is a terrible human tragedy it is difficult to resolve.
‘A dead man can’t be disciplined and can’t defend himself.
‘Suicide is wicked, but it is possible he feared he was about to be ruined. I am hearing there is real evidence to back up these extraordinary claims.
‘But the greater fault would be with Dr Campbell who, as a minister, had a duty of care.’
They said that, if the women admitted affairs, they may be allowed to continue receiving communion. But the source added: ‘It would never be forgotten on the island.’
The women accused of affairs or their families refused to comment or made denials.
In an obituary for Dr Campbell, long-serving Free Church minister Professor Donald Macleod had written: ‘Too late, we know that he was in pain, and sometimes pain is more powerful than faith, and more powerful than reason, and altogether too much for the balance of our minds.’
A spokesman for the Free Church on Lewis confirmed the allegations had been made, saying the church was ‘taking these very seriously and acting on them’.
Last night a public relations professional hired by learning support assistant Mrs Campbell made no attempt to deny any details of the story, but said: ‘The family has lost a husband and father.’
According to the Scotland Herald, Campbell not only committed adultery, he also fathered a child with a woman who is not his wife. The Herald also alleges that these allegations could reach as far back as the 1990s.
There are no winners in this story. If reports are true, Campbell was living a double life, one that his wife had knowledge of before he died. While it is likely that his suicide was related to the threat of being exposed as an adulterer, we will never know for sure, because Campbell didn’t leave a note. It’s clear that Campbell’s wife Anne is hurt and angry and she is taking it out on the women who had sexual relationships with her husband. Anne Campbell’s allegation are sure to cause great havoc and damage, both in and outside of the Point Free Church. Worse, the Campbell’s adult children must not only mourn the death of their father, but also deal the fallout from their mother’s allegations.
Campbell’s duplicitous life and suicide are a real conundrum for Evangelical Calvinists on both sides of the pond. Ministerial colleagues, parishioners, and friends all praised Campbell for his devotion to Christ during his fifty-three years on earth. Campbell wrote numerous books, along with articles for Calvinistic publications. He was loved and well-respected. Now that it is known that Campbell committed suicide, and according to his wife he was screwing his way through the female church membership, I wonder what lengths Calvinists will go to square what he said with how he actually lived and ended his life.
Calvinists believe that Christians must persevere to the end to be saved. Despite all of their talk about grace, Calvinists preach a conditional salvation that requires those who say they are Christians to live lives of good works until death. Those who don’t persevere until the end — people such as myself — never were true Christians. (Actually, since I am still among the living, it is p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e that I could return to the faith, that is IF I am one of the elect.) I wonder how Calvinists will square Campbell’s ‘works’ with their theology and the clear teachings of the Bible. Consider:
By committing suicide and adultery and not repenting, Campbell died having unconfessed sin.
There is nothing ambiguous about Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
or 1 Corinthians 6:9,10:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neitherfornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
It is with stories such as this one that the Calvinistic rubber meets the road. Campbell and his fellow Evangelical preachers — in Puritan-like fashion — view themselves as proclaimers of God’s standard of morality. Asked if homosexuals or same-sex married couples are Christian and will go to heaven when they die, I am sure that, to the man Campbell and his Calvinistic brethren would say no. Will they say the same about Campbell, a self-murderer and adulterer?
We Love Stornoway published (link no longer active) the following obituary for Campbell:
The tragic death of the Reverend Iain D. Campbell has cast a gloom over the island of Lewis such as it has never known in my lifetime; and the gloom is not confined to Lewis. Iain was a well-known figure in Evangelical circles throughout Britain, and beyond, and tributes have already come in from the USA and elsewhere.
‘He could have adorned pulpits in the largest cities in the world,’ writes Dr. Geoff Thomas of Aberystwyth, ‘or become a professor in an American seminary, but he valued the community which nourished and nurtured him, and he shared their values.’ To that community he dedicated his life, and from it he drew the strength that supported his wider ministry.
Iain D. Campbell was a brilliant communicator, in constant demand as a lecturer and conference-speaker. He had a quite extraordinary fluency of speech, but the fluency was disciplined by clarity, precision and careful arrangement. The delivery was effortless, though often passionate, the mastery of the subject complete, and while there was no trace of arrogance he spoke with the Bible-derived authority of a true preacher.
But he was also a master of the written word, as his many publications show, and the Free Church recognised this by appointing him Editor of its magazine, the Record, not only once, but twice. He was still serving in this capacity at the time of his death, and one of the most poignant memories we shall carry is that his very last issue (the February one) contains a photo of him in the prime of a splendid manhood, looking perfectly at peace with himself and the world. His editorship avoided controversy, but it reflected faithfully both the growing diversity within the Church and its links with the wider Christian world; and his own contributions consistently dealt with the profoundest themes at a level which was well within the compass of an intelligent laity.
Iain D was a rare combination: an academic and a natural preacher, and all who knew him assumed that sooner rather than later he would be appointed to teach at the Free Church College. Such opportunities did indeed arise and I, for one, devoutly wished to see him as either a colleague or a successor. My attempts to persuade him failed, to my chagrin, and now to my lasting regret, but the College’s loss was Point’s gain. He was inducted there on 21st August 2009, and as in his previous charges of Snizort (1988-95) and Back (1995-2009) his preaching quickly rekindled enthusiasm for the Christian message, and people who had lost their spiritual appetite found themselves once again looking forward eagerly to their Sundays and to preaching which fed their minds and stirred their souls. Thanks to the marvels of modern technology these sermons were heard all over the world and within hours of his death an American pastor was writing, ‘I never met or heard Dr Campbell in the flesh, but I knew him from sermon audios, and the sermons I heard told me all that I needed to know of the man. The reason for his high reputation was obvious. He was a man of transparent piety, for whom the Bible and the God of the Bible was a Being with whom he was familiar. The Bible irradiated everything he said, and every application he made of Biblical truth seemed so searching and personal, even though he did not know those whom he addressed. He knew men’s deepest needs and he addressed them with gentleness and compassion as one who felt for them, and wanted them to have the comfort of Christian peace. His death is a loss, not only to his immediate family and to the congregations he pastored, but to the wider church across the world.’
Iain D would have risen to eminence in any profession (and once toyed with the idea of becoming an SNP candidate for the Scottish Parliament), but he chose the Christian ministry, and in that chosen field he became a giant. Yet, for all the consummate ease with which he presented himself in public, he was a very private man who seldom shared his feelings, and he exuded such an aura of calm competence that none of us thought to ask, ‘Are you OK?’ Now, too late, we know that he was in pain, and sometimes pain is more powerful than faith, and more powerful than reason, and altogether too much for the balance of our minds. Bereft of him, we are traumatised, our hearts bleeding, our minds stunned and our prayers turned into protests.
I find myself swirling in a vortex of questions, narratives, disinformation, regrets and fears. St. Paul assures me that ‘God works all things together for good,’ but never has my faith in that great promise been so severely tested. How He can turn this grievous loss into good, I see not. But grace shone brightly in the life of Iain D. Campbell, such grace does not let go, and if it leads me home we shall soon be with the Lord together.
The obituary stated that Campbell was “a man of transparent piety.” Evidently, not. The obituary also said Campbell “knew men’s deepest needs.” To that, all I can say is, indeed.
While men such as David Robertson have attempted to cut off public discussion of Campbell’s immorality, this story remains a hot topic in some Calvinistic circles. From my perspective as a former Evangelical Calvinist and a pastor, this story is a reminder that preachers can and do have secret lives. (The same could be said for all of us.) It seems clear, at least to me, that Ian and Anne Campbell’s marriage was troubled and that Ian found love in all the wrong places. As mentioned numerous times in the Black Collar Crime series and other posts, Evangelical pastors, evangelists, missionaries, elders, deacons, and Sunday School teachers — supposedly pillars or morality and virtue — can be every bit as “worldly” and “sinful” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world.
These men of God preach thundering sermons about the sins of Adam’s race, call on all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel, yet they themselves cannot live according to what they preach. Campbell leaves a legacy that says, now that his adulterous affairs have been exposed, do as I say, not as I do. In other words, Campbell was a hypocrite. And that would be fine, if it weren’t for that fact that Campbell, along with his fellow Calvinistic pastors, pompously dare to demand that everyone live according to the anti-human moral precepts and teachings of the Bible. When these so-called mouthpieces of God are found out to be less than their bio suggests, it is certainly fair for unbelievers such as myself to point out the hypocrisy. If Evangelicals don’t like having their sins exposed to the light of day, I suggest that they quit exposing what they believe are the moral failures of believers and unbelievers alike and admit that they are every bit as “fallen” as the rest of us.
From an atheistic and humanistic perspective, I feel sad for Anne Campbell and her children. The stain of their father’s and husband’s sin and death will be with them forever. Anne Campbell will always be viewed as a woman who extracted some sort of payback by exposing her husband’s affairs. Silent while her husband was living, Anne has unleashed her scorn and wrath on those who dared to let her husband into their beds. It will be interesting to see if the Point Free Church can survive this scandal.
Ian Campbell’s body lies in a grave, returning to the earth from whence it came. His secrets and his tragedy live on, but he does not. There is no hell, so no eternal punishment of fire and brimstone await. The only hell is that which Campbell left behind.
Humans are such complex characters. It is probably unfair that we ask more of certain people than we do of others – clergy, office holders, others in high positions – and of ourselves. Of course, we despise certain characteristics in ourselves, even as we continue to engage in the despised behaviors. But we expect those to whom we admire, and those who have sought high positions, to be better than we are. I am reminded of your post just yesterday when your congregant objected when you admitted you knew what it was to lust after a woman.
I concur. It is time for Evangelicals to stable the moral high horse, and rejoin the human race. Then posts such as this one won’t need to be written. The story then is that of a bad marriage, a scorned woman, and a man who couldn’t keep his pants zipped up. It is probable that Campbell’s religious beliefs fueled his suicide attempts. Campbell broke his marriage vows, as countless people do, but such lapses don’t normally lead to suicide. Throw religion, particularly Evangelical Christianity, into the mix and that changes everything. Imagine the depths of Campbell’s guilt, fear, and shame. It is not hard to imagine a follower of Jesus, in a moment of despair, turning to suicide.
I have battled depression most of my adult life. For many years, I denied that I was depressed, attributing my melancholy to God testing or trying me, Satan tempting me, or God punishing me for this or that sin. My religious beliefs told me that depression was a sign of a backslidden, sinful, or rebellious life. After all, the Bible says in Isaiah 26:3:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee [God]: because he trusteth in thee.
Psalm 43:5 states:
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.
The Apostle Paul — a First Century Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer — had this to say:
Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
And if these verses weren’t enough, there was always the “look at all Jesus suffered just so you could be saved and go to Heaven someday!” Compared to what Jesus went through, my depression was nothing.
I had numerous colleagues in the ministry, but talking to them about my depression was not an option. Talking to them meant admitting I was weak or “sinful.” I never considered seeking out the help of a psychiatrist or a psychologist. How could I? I had preached numerous sermons on the aforementioned verses, and on my bookshelf sat books such as Psycho-Heresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Wayne and Deidre Bobgan and PsychoBabble: The Failure of Modern Psychology–and the Biblical Alternative by Richard Ganz. No, I concluded that I was the problem.
I now know that having a Type A personality and being a perfectionist and a workaholic didn’t help matters. No matter how hard I worked, I never measured up. The church growth craze of the 1970s and 1980s only exacerbated my depression. The ministry was reduced to a set of numbers: attendance, souls saved, and offerings. Push, push, push. Like a crack addict seeking his latest fix, I focused on attendance increases and souls brought to Jesus to push my depression into the background. And as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, declining attendance and a lack of “God working in our midst” forced my depression to the forefront. I spent countless nights alone in the darkness of the church building praying to God, pleading that he would fill me with his Spirit and use me to bring in a large harvest of souls. In the end, no matter how hard I worked or how much I sacrificed— money, family, and health — it was never enough. Success was a temporary elixir that soothed my depression, but its effect soon wore off and I retreated for the thousandth time into the deep, dark recesses of my mind.
In 2005, two years after I left the ministry, I told Polly I needed professional psychological help. It took me another three years before I was willing to pick up the phone and make an appointment. At first, finding a “Christian” counselor was important to me. Once I found one, I then had second thoughts about people seeing me entering his office or noticing my car in the parking lot. I live in an area where everyone knows me — both as a pastor and now as an atheist. It wasn’t until I deconverted that I began calling counselors, hoping to find a non-religious, secular counselor. Fortunately, I found just the right person to help peel away the layers of my life, allowing me to finally embrace my depression and find ways of handling what Dexter the serial killer called his “dark passenger.”
Readers who have been with me since the days of blogs named Bruce Droppings, NW Ohio Skeptic, The Way Forward, and Fallen From Grace have helplessly watched me psychologically crash and burn, only to rise again out of the ashes like a Phoenix. Surprisingly, the current iteration of my blog has been active for 18 months, besting the previous longevity record by 6 months. Let’s Party!!
In recent weeks, numerous readers have written to express their concern about my health and declining level of literary output. I deeply appreciate the fact that people care and that they are discerning enough — having studied the Bruce Gerencser species — to know when I am teetering on the brink of the abyss.
I mentioned earlier today on Facebook that I feel like I have tied a knot on the rope of my life and I am desperately trying to hold on. There are days when I feel my grip slipping, leaving me to wonder if I can make it through another day. I do what I can. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen.
Health problems continue to drive my depression and virtually every other aspect of my life. Tuesday I attended my granddaughter’s softball game; Wednesday, my grandson’s baseball game. I shot hundreds of photographs, hoping to leave for them a reminder of a Grandfather who loved them very much. They don’t understand it as such right now, thinking that I am an annoying old man who is always taking their picture, but someday, perhaps when they have children of their own, they will be glad that I — for a few hours on a summer day long ago — endured great pain to see them play. As it stands today, I am bedfast, hoping to recuperate enough from the previous two days to attend a dirt track race with several of my sons on Saturday.
As depressives will tell you, small problems often pile up for them and turn into full-blown depressive episodes. I mean, suicide level, I can’t deal with this any longer. My counselor — who is also my friend — is keenly aware of how quickly things can pile up for me. Starting with chronic illness, unrelenting pain, loss of mobility, and decreased cognitive function, my plate is quite full before I even get out of bed — that is, if I can get out of bed.
Recent events have filled my plate as I would on Thanksgiving Day. What’s one more helping of ham, turkey, and candied sweet potatoes, right? While I find it too painful to write about many of the things that have been added to my plate, I have talked to my counselor about how overwhelmed I am with life. His advice was quite direct. He told me that I like to help people and that my family sees me as some sort of “fixer,” but now declining health is forcing me to stop taking on everyone’s problems and burdens. It’s time for me to focus on what is best for me, and not what’s best for others. I am not sure how well I can heed his advice, but I am trying.
Last year I wrote about my father-in law who — contrary to our advice — had hip surgery. Six months later he is still in the nursing home and it likely that he will be in a wheelchair the rest of his life. I have had moments when I have wanted to scream, God dammit, I warned you that this could happen, but I know nothing good would come from such an outburst. My father-in-law will never return home to the house where he lived for 40 years. It was sold today, and now the hunt is on for a suitable apartment. But I won’t be joining in the hunt.
Having been blamed for countless things thing have befallen my in-laws, I can no longer be their go-to person when problems arise. One of my sons got a taste of their blaming when he helped them get a new car. They don’t like their new car, so whose fault it that? Not theirs. My son is to blame. This storyline has been played out numerous times over the 40 years Polly and I have known each other. I took away their daughter and now she no longer believes in God or goes to church. Who’s to blame? I am. They blame me for ruining their grandchildren, infecting them with my godlessness. In their minds, if Polly had just married the right preacher boy none of this would have happened. Year after year, I have lived with their slights and insults — mainly coming from my mother-in-law — and being told that I wasn’t good enough for their daughter or that I was “different.” Several weeks ago my mother-in-law — unsolicited — took it upon herself to give a running report to my two youngest children about my past sins. Why? I have no idea.
When hearing of my latest attempt to assist them — selling their house and helping them find an apartment — my counselor advised me to stop doing so. You have too much on your plate, he told me, to have to also deal with their problems. Besides, they are your wife’s parents, not yours. If they are going to blame someone, let them blame her! I took his advice, decoupling myself from their train wreck. I still want what is best for them, but I can no longer be the target of their blame when things don’t go as planned.
I have written all this to say that I must continue to find ways to “lighten my load.” My health will never be as good as it is today, and someday I will likely be unable to leave my home. In the interest of improving the quality of what life I have left, I must identify the unnecessary things that are weighing me down and cast them aside. This is not easy for me to do. Giving in has never been my strong suit. I hate to let go of things (and people) who have been very much a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I am in the process of identifying what matters to me and how best to spend my time doing these things. As things stand today, writing and photography are number one and two on the list. I have sold my library and woodworking tools, knowing that I will never enjoy these things again. I still collect Library of America books, but I do so because I want to leave them for my grandchildren — several of whom are ravenous readers. I am left with my writing and my cameras. How long I can continue to productively write and shoot photographs is unknown. For now, I am holding on to the knot at the end of the rope.
It goes without saying that above everything I could ever do or own, I deeply love my wife, children, and grandchildren (and yes, my daughters-in-law and son-in-law too). As illness and pain whittle down my life, I am learning that what matters most is love and family. The praise of congregants and the approbation of fellow clergy are but distant memories. I would trade all of them for one day without pain. We silly humans so often focus on things that don’t matter. Age brings perspective, and what really matters — at least to me — fits on a small Post-it note. And even now, I continue to mark through things on my list. I suspect that when death claims me for its own, my list will contain a handful of names and the words “they loved me until the end.”
Dexter Morgan, crime lab blood spatter expert by day and serial killer by night, described his need to kill as his dark passenger. While I’m certainly not a serial killer, I understand what Dexter was talking about. For me, depression is my dark passenger; always lurking just below the surface of my life, ready to show itself at any moment.
I’ve struggled with depression most of my life. For many years I thought that if I got closer to Jesus that the depression would go away. I thought if I just worked harder, prayed more, and denied self as Jesus commanded that I would find peace. But I found that the closer I got to Jesus the more depressed I became. No matter how hard I worked for the King of Kings, my dark passenger refused to leave.
When I began having health problems, my depression worsened. As unrelenting pain, daily fatigue, and loss of mobility reduced me to a shadow of man I once was, my depression deepened and the periods of depression became longer. Going from breadwinner to recliner manager left a deep psychological wound, as did the loss of mental acuity. It’s hard to look in the mirror and wonder what happened to you.
Three years ago, I started seeing a secular counselor, a local psychologist who has become my confidant and friend. He has, over time, peeled back the layers of my life, helping me to gain a better understanding of who I am and why I battle with depression.
My counselor helped me to see that it is quite normal for someone with pervasive health problems and unrelenting pain to be depressed. He’s never told to put mind over matter or said I should get over it. He also knows that my Evangelical past has done a number on me mentally and emotionally. I expect no cure and he doesn’t offer one.
Sometimes, my dark passenger so overwhelms me that I find myself wishing I were dead. It comes as no surprise that, when the pain is off the charts and I am bed-fast, thoughts of suicide enter my mind. My counselor says my suicidal thoughts are situational. When my pain is managed and I can write a bit and get out of the house, I rarely ponder ending my life.
I no longer plan for the future. It’s all I can do to make though the day. From the moment my feet hit the floor when I get up, the struggle is on. Another day, another battle with pain and suffering. Some days are “better” than others, with better being a relative term. Better for me is being able to walk and work for a few hours. Worse is lying in bed or sitting in the recliner waiting for the next dose of narcotic pain medicine. Better is going to the store or taking a photography trip. Worse is stumbling through the house, cane in hand, wishing the day would be over.
I’ve accepted that this is my lot in life. Whatever the reasons, and they are many, this is how it is. Wanting things to be different doesn’t change reality. While I do my best to stay positive, and Polly continues to be my biggest cheerleader, I make no promises that I’ll be here five, ten, or twenty years from now. I’m like a high mileage car that has been repurposed for use as a demolition derby car. Sooner than later I will be hauled off to the junkyard, crushed, and melted down.
I want to live until I die, or so I tell myself. Some days, I just want the pain to stop, but I know that death is the only way to make this happen. For now Polly, the kids, and the grandchildren fuel my desire to live. Will this always be the case? I can’t say. Maybe, maybe not. All I can do is meet each day as it comes and hope that I find the strength and will to carry on. Will my dark passenger, as it did for my mother, ultimately win the battle? I don’t know. I no longer try think about such things. Just live one minute, one hour, one day at a time. If I can do this then perhaps I can force my dark passenger to remain in the shadows. If not, those who know me best will know I fought the good fight until I could fight it no more.
Today, I got up at noon after finally falling to sleep seven hours before. My legs and feet hurt like I had been standing on concrete all day. I suspect the pain is from standing while I photographed my grandson’s football game on Saturday and later helping Polly can applesauce. The two-day rule is in effect. The true physical price paid for any activity does not come due until the second day. So many times, the first day after an activity, I’ve thought that I got by with something, only to find out on the second day that I did far more than I should have.
Winter is looming and I feel the pressure of all the things that need done before the snow flies. I asked Polly what she wanted me to do. Knowing I was already having a bad day, she said “NOTHING.” She wants me to rest, to hope for a better day. I want to work, to reduce the increasing burden she has because of being married to a cripple. As always. I ignored her and went outside to cut down the sunflowers, pull some weeds, and pick the ornamental corn. Within an hour I was sweating profusely and I could hear my heart thumping quickly in my chest. Polly was right–I should have done nothing.
I came into the house, peeled off my sweat-laden clothes and tried to cool off. Lunch came and went, Polly left for work, and I shuffled into my office. Time to do some writing. Write I did, but I found myself increasingly depressed. I soldiered on only to find my dark passenger waiting for me, knife in hand. I cried for a bit, picked myself up out of the wheelchair and moved to the recliner in the living room. Time for football. Hopefully, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers will take my mind off my mortality.
I think I’ll make through today. Tomorrow? We’ll see.
This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.
A guest post series written by Anonymous
Quite recently a friend of mine was found dead. We’re still not sure of the cause of death. It’s difficult to believe she intentionally committed suicide without leaving a note to her very beloved family. She was one of the most devoted mothers I’ve ever known and left four children and five grandchildren and many friends and other relatives, all who loved her immensely. She was my co-worker, my friend, my ‘happy hour’ buddy and was always good for a laugh or a chug. My heart is heavy; my stomach has been in knots for days. I will miss her greatly.
Her passing has renewed a few conversations in my mind I’ve been mulling off and on for several years. My next few posts will deal with some very personal issues but I think issues that must continually be brought to light in order for change to occur.
It seems the whole of Fundamentalism (including Gothard) reject the fact that depression exists and those who experience are not to blame. I grew up with a very depressed mother. I believe my father is depressed as well although he exhibits different symptoms (as men normally do). After their abusive childhoods and cultic/religious teachings full of blame and condemnation, depression is no surprise. My mother’s father was a depressed man. He turned to alcohol to ‘deal’, thereby circumventing displaying for his children alternative coping skills. My mother did not utilize alcohol. She had Jesus and a Bible full of verses to tell her what a horrible, rotten person she was and that even her good deeds were as filthy rags to him who died in her stead; if it weren’t for his death she would be nothing; and she was the reason God’s only Son suffered….and on and on it goes. If that’s not the most depressing ‘Good News’ I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.
One of the first stories I remember hearing Gothard relay to his audience was about a woman who had left a plastic bag in her infant son’s bedroom. While he was sleeping, a breeze blew the plastic bag into the baby’s bed and suffocated him. I can’t imagine losing one of my children, but knowing my choice not to pick-up the plastic bag is what took his life would haunt me forever. Of course, this woman was plagued with guilt and Gothard’s remedy was to remind her that all her sins were nailed with Jesus on the cross. Was that woman’s choice that cost her son’s life a sin? No. A bad decision? Yes.
But this seems to be the mind of Gothard: that every possible life choice or decision (seemingly major or minute) is a misstep in the eyes of god. Those who live under this teaching and believe it rack up hours and days, years & lifetimes of doubt, fear and guilt. It’s a vicious cycle I observed continuously as a child. My mother – beautiful, capable, classy and stylish- was never good enough for anyone in her own eyes. The condemnation was always there, but then she had the audacity to go and be human – feel emotions, speak her mind, react in anger or frustration and then the guilt would accumulate and we’d find verses written on 3×5 cards around the house or on the chalkboard in the school room reminding her of who she was ‘in Christ’ (only), not as a person who was loved and could choose to love herself without the permission of any ‘Savior’; accept her humanity (and that of others); to choose happiness. No, it was a constant search for affirmation and still is.
Even as a child, I remember feeling huge pangs of guilt and fear over small ‘sins.’ And in Gothard world, just about everything can be a sin. Any thoughts, feelings or behaviors that didn’t fall under the realm of his particular brand of ‘godliness’ were stressed over, creating compulsiveness I still find difficulty shaking. Most people in my family seem to possess a disposition for depression. When you are reared to believe ‘Jesus is enough’ and not taught to utilize positive coping skills, instead internalizing all the ‘sinful bad’ and shameful emotions, you become an accident waiting to happen. I internalized so much and created a very dark, depressed, narrow-minded world by the time I was 21 leading me to seriously consider taking my own life. I’m not sure why I didn’t but that day, I began a new journey out of the old thought patterns, belief system and mindsets that had led to so much bondage instead of the freedom purported by those I love and trusted.
Not too long ago, I was mopping the living room floor alone, enjoying the peace and quiet. I was in a good mood; I’d had accomplished a lot that day (always good for a happy high) and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, came a flood of depression, unhappiness and fear in such dark contrast to the sunlight I was feeling just seconds before. Tears escaped my eyes before I could not hold them back. At that point I realized the flood of depression and negative emotion I experienced was in no way related to my previous moments of happiness and that I had the say-so over the gloominess. I get to acknowledge its presence in my life, forego the guilt and blame and conquer its hold. That day was a life-changer for me. I came to a new state of POWERFUL self-awareness in my life and a new desire to find the strength to adequately cope with whatever comes my way.
It is not arrogance to believe you are worth whatever it takes to make this life YOUR BEST LIFE. It is not selfishness to take care of YOUR emotional, physical, spiritual self. Depression is not a sign of weakness.It is okay to acknowledge depression and get whatever help you may need.Depression is not a sin and never was.
I wrote this post in honor of my friend and for any and all of you reared within the condemning confines of Fundamentalism and Gothard’s teachings and who continue to self-flagellate, allowing those teachings to instill fear, obligation and guilt. My friend was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. She was constantly doing for others and may have forgotten about herself in the process. Perhaps she did not learn how to cope; to confess her humanity to others instead of constantly trying to please & make everything ‘look’ good on the outside, discounting her own sadness and fears by focusing on the thoughts and needs of others. While I don’t know for sure, my own experience with Gothard has created some difficult hurdles as I continue to learn how to manage my emotions and thoughts and not berate myself over my own humanity (faults, weaknesses, commissions/omissions, etc.). For every person set free from the stronghold of Gothard’s teachings, there is something to share, something to be learned.
How have you learned to cope with your depression and negative thoughts stemming from cultic teachings?
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003
House we rented in White Birch, a wooded community north of Farwell, Michigan. At the time, I was pastoring Victory Baptist Church, Clare Michigan 2003
Depression Sea is roiling today, my mind is twisting, turning, and dying.
She knows, she always knows. My face and body language tell a story she’s read time and again.
She worries that this time the story might have a different ending.
I’m at the doctor’s office.
Wasn’t I here last month? I already know the answer, having made the trip eight times and the year isn’t even half over.
As we wait for the nurse to call my name, we play the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®.
Playing the game allows me to change the monotonous, deadly channel that keeps playing over and over in mind.
We look at one another, smile, and begin the game.
The game always has the same answers, but we like to play anyway.
In the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®, we take shared places and experiences and meld them into one. A fantasy, to be sure, but who knows, maybe we’ll strike it rich, rob a bank, or write a book detailing where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.
Spring in Ohio, with its promise of new life and flowers.
Fall in Ohio, with its crisp air and changing colors.
Winter in Arizona, no snow for us, we survived the Blizzard of 78.
Summer in the Upper Peninsula , nestled as close to our Canadian friends as possible.
Our rented house from White Birch, Michigan, with a 1970 green Nova SS sitting in the drive.
Bruce putting water in 1970 Nova SS, March 1976, somewhere in Kentucky
Package these things together and magically move them to the eastern seaboard, to a small, out-of-the-way fishing community on the shore of the Atlantic.
Turn the house so it fronts the Ocean, allowing us to sit on our deck and watch the sunrise and the fishing boats making their way to the secret spots known only to those whose hands and face bear the weathered look of a lifetime spent fishing.
Nearby live our children and grandchildren. Not too close, yet not so far as to be beyond an invite to a Saturday night BBQ.
This is Bruce and Polly’s fantasy.
She remains worried, wondering if the slough of despondency will bury the man she loves.
All I want is for the pain to stop.
Is that too much to ask?
I already knows the answer. I always knows the answer.
The nurse calls my name and I haltingly walk to the exam room.
No weight gain, medications the same, pulse 78, and blood pressure just a little high. Refills ordered, sure is hot, hate the humidity, how’s Bethany, he’ll be in to see you soon.
The doctor walks through the door and sits near me. Eighteen years we’ve danced to this tune, both of us now dance much slower than we once did.
The doctor thinks I am chipper today, better than last month. Little does he know what I’m really thinking. We talk about the Reds, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, and the All Star game. I promised the nurse that we wouldn’t do our thing, our thing being shooting the breeze while other patients wait. I lied. He’s behind and I’m to blame.
We shake hands and afterward I put my hand gently on his shoulder. I tell him, see you in two months. This sounds like a lie, a hollow promise with no hope of fulfillment.
I want to live.
I want to die.
We stop at St. John’s produce tent and buy some local strawberries. $3.50 a quart. We buy some Georgia peaches too, which will turn into pies for Sunday. The strawberries will top the angel food cake she will make in the morning; just like every other June 19th for the past thirty-seven years.
Bruce and his mom, July 1957
June 19, 1957, in a building years ago torn down and replaced with a new one, at 9:01 AM I drew air into my lungs for the first time. A new life born into poverty in a nondescript rural Ohio community, delivered by a doctor who also worked as a veterinarian.
The path is now long and how much path remains is unknown.
Will the game be called today or will we get to play, for the nth time the Bruce and Polly Fantasy Game®?
I’m still betting on playing the game.
For those who struggle with chronic pain and illness, a birthday can often lead to deep depression, a reminder of all that has been lost. While the healthy focus on all they have, those in pain and who suffer from years of chronic debility can, and often do, focus on how much they have lost. Yes, it is wonderful to have a sliver of life to hold on to, to have a spouse, children, and grandchildren who love you, but nothing can ameliorate the sense of loss.
This is not a cry for help. I am just talking out loud with friends.
I have suffered with depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in 1997.
Over the past two decades, not only have I had to contend with Fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with neurological problems that are ever so-slowly-robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days, most days, are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days, days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, they have taught me that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy for others.
Every day is a pain day for me. Some days the pain is manageable and it fades into the background as I write. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic man. Most days are a balance between these extremes. I take my pain meds, try to function, and live for another day.
Along with Fibromyalgia, neurological problems, loss of function, and pain, I’ve had to deal with skin cancer, cysts, a recent pancreatic cancer scare, loss of appetite, on-and-off loss of cognitive function, a not-yet-repaired labrum tear in my shoulder, torn menisci in both of my knees, osteoarthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Healthwise, my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in chase of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but close inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.
All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live it on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man, a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will, I tried to see things as they are.
Having a father die at 49 and a mother commit suicide at 54 tends to give one a particular perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital tends to remind one that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life and I know path I am on, healthwise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.
My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain, Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, never to be seen again.
As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain…it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things like:
Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
Emails and texts to friends who never respond
Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are doctors
People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that…
Dropping a dish on my foot
Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be
Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
The printer running out of ink or toner
Needing a quarter for a cart at Aldi and not having one
The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my chair or bed
Making an error in the checkbook
Store clerks who treat me as if I have a disease or worse yet, treat me as if I don’t exist
Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal
Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand: for those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their lives are already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illness. It’s often all they can do just to live another day. So, when a small insignificant thing is thrown on top of their load, it can and does bring them crashing down.
Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter: it’s not that one thing that is the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.
“Dear Dr. Hyles. I am 24 years of age. I am a preacher boy whom God called to preach six months after I got saved three years ago. I felt led to go to a certain Bible college in a certain state. I attended there until God called me to pastor a small church. I was ordained. From there, God led me back to a certain city in a certain state where I got saved under Dr. Joe Doe. (I’m using ficticious names.) I worked on the staff of Dr. Doe for that summer and started to go to the Letot Bible Institute that fall.
As I started to go to school that fall, I got a full-time position in a church as assistant pastor and youth director. While I was in a certain state, I met and married a wonderful girl, a spiritual girl, a girl that loved Jesus Christ. As we lived in Letot, I was working for a church in a certain place. I seemed to be getting away from soul winning and getting deeper into the books. After awhile I was not doing what God wanted me to do and what God made me to do. I was not knocking on doors and winning people to Jesus Christ. My not being the man of God I ought to be affected my marriage. It affected my marriage to the extent that my wife told me at one time that if I didn’t become the soul winner that God wants me to be, she couldn’t respect me as a man of God, and she thinks. . . .”
“One afternoon as I was leaving from school, my wife and I seemed to be in the flesh. We didn’t have devotions that day and pray as we usually do. I walked out of the house without telling her I loved her and without telling her good-bye. As I got to school, I felt bad, so I called on the phone, and there was no answer. I knew something was wrong. I drove home immediately and found my wife had committed suicide.”
“As we had her funeral in her hometown up North, I went a half hour early before her relatives and friends viewed the body. I walked in and put my head on my wife’s chest in the casket and was hoping that she would lean up and hold me, kiss me, cuddle me, baby me and tell me that she loved me, but she wasn’t there–she was with the Lord. I then fell on my face before the casket and talked with God. Something happened to me there that I can’t explain, but for once in my life I had the full power of God, but what a price to have to pay! As her friends and relatives came by the casket, I stood there like a soldier witnessing and telling them about Jesus Christ. I feel, Dr. Hyles, that God is leading me to Hyles-Anderson College to learn more about Him and learn more about character and discipline and be the man that God wants me to be.”
This is every man’s right. Each has only one life to live. God looks down and sees that every man is incomplete. God gives a man a woman, and that woman is supposed to complete that man. If you fail to do it, it won’t be done. If he dies without ever having it, it’s because you didn’t give it to him. You have taken from him what is every man’s right. Every man’s right is to have a completer. That’s why God made you!
A lady came to my office not long ago and I gave her this truth. She said, “I’m not going to do all that stuff.”
I said, “I’ll give you an alternative suggestion.”
She said, “What?”
I said, “Go over here to the bridge over the Chicago River and jump off.”
“Go jump in the river.”
I said, “You’d go to Heaven, and your husband wouldn’t have to live in hell!” Listen to me, especially you young ladies, you unmarried ladies, you ladies who haven’t been married long. I’m trying to help you. I’m not trying to take any freedoms away from you. I’m trying to give you a liberty that you’ll never enjoy unless you become what God has made you to be.
I said to that lady in my office for counsel, “Look, you are standing in the way. Your husband is a good man. He’s not going to have anybody else. You’re standing in the way of your husband ever having a completer. You’d be a lot better off, young lady, in the early days of your marriage, if you would go over and jump off the bridge so your husband can have in his lifetime someone to complete the circle.”