Dark Night

Chapter 8 – Dark Nights – Part 1

Note – This post discusses suicidal ideation as part of my mental health story from 2018 to 2020 and may trigger unwanted thoughts or emotions in those that have suffered traumas. This post is part of a story told chronologically.

May started out favorably. I visited family. I traveled to the Lake Lure area. Around a campfire with numerous, bright stars overhead, the Airbnb owner and I dreamed of placing a yurt on her land. The next day, I met with Robyn to review the Cornerstone manuscript.

Though evil thoughts peppered my mind, they didn’t whoosh with a salvo of attacks. Perhaps time away from the terror of my house relaxed my mind and body. Moreover, the stomach pains lessened. No longer was my body coiling in a panic several times throughout the day.

Like the panic attacks, it seemed my body had a mind of its own. Sometimes a thought triggered a bodily response. Other times, my body reacted to something, and this triggered a negative thought. I imagined a slinky or a snake starting at my head and wriggling down my spine until escaping through my feet. This panic always started at my head and went down my body. Never did it originate like a bolt of lightning from the ground and go up my legs. But this panic certainly sped down my body as quickly as lightning.

Back in Raleigh, I went on a date. I wasn’t in the best state of mind to date then, nor later in the year when I went on another date. But I was lonely. In fact, I was very lonely at times, particularly on Sunday nights. The mornings were fine because I saw friends at church, but the nights carried an air of desolation. Lyrics from a Johnny Cash song often scrolled across my mind, “Cause there’s something in a Sunday/That makes a body feel alone.”

Maybe this desolation came from my long-held desire for a wife and a family, I reasoned. Sundays were family days, I reminded myself. I had friends and a good roommate, a roommate that surprised me one night and cooked me a meal of chicken stir-fry rice. I had been alone throughout my life for long stretches at a time. As an introvert, I was comfortable being alone. So why was I feeling so lonely? Self-pity? Because I was the only person fighting these internal battles?

Though things were looking brighter, I was an empty shell of myself. The dark clouds and heavy crusting that ringed my brain had dissipated some, but I struggled with understanding why I kept having homicidal thoughts. Therapy was good, but terrible thoughts continued to attack from a deeper and darker place. I was vulnerable, Padre had told me. I wanted the thoughts to end. I was beaten and burned-out, fatigued from insomnia and fighting. I wanted to surrender, a spiritual term, but a word that connoted suicide to my mom’s ears.

In this state of mind, I attended a Memorial Day event in Raleigh. I was still during the event. Likewise, I was tranquil when I said farewell to the monk at the Avila Retreat Center on the following Saturday. I was ready to move on.

But later in the week, on Sunday night, I watched a recorded Memorial Day event. Why? I love hearing the stories and the music, especially the military medley. When a veteran stood on stage and cried when discussing his brother’s suicide, a deep, sinking feeling came over me. My chest caved, and a pang of dark, hot guilt flowed through me. The veteran shared his survivor’s guilt. Through tears, he told the crowd he seriously considered suicide. Suicidal ideation was contagious, he said, an evil that infects the mind like a virus. The veteran pleaded with other veterans to seek help if they needed it. The phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) came on the screen (1-800-273-TALK).

During three deployments, I mostly stayed on base but was vulnerable to mortar and rocket attacks. I knew people that were injured or died, though no one close to me. I traveled more throughout Iraq during my second deployment there in 2011. However, Iraq was safer in 2011 than it was in 2007.

That night after watching the Memorial Day event, I took a sedative and fell asleep around 10. I woke up three hours later in a panicked, hot sweat. The sheets were drenched. It was another nightmare in the woods where I was about to be killed with a blade to my neck. I woke up before dying. However, I didn’t leave the woods unscathed. My mind had been completely encrusted, yet a drill was boring a hole. Then a piercing pain jabbed repeatedly with the precision of a scalpel. It burned. Something in the center of my brain was pulsating rapidly, preparing to explode at any minute.

I rushed to the floor and cried out pleading for the pain to end. In almost a whisper, voices gently told me to end the pain. I saw the gun beside my bed and fancied killing myself. I reached for it but pulled back. I was dense and alone, as far removed from God as I imagined possibly existed, like God had abandoned me in my deepest need. If an eternal Hell existed, I thought days later, this must be what it was like.

I didn’t want to die; I wanted the pain and the thoughts to end. I could no longer bear the barrage of orders telling me to harm others. I didn’t have a good personification until months later when watching a Percy Jackson movie with my nephews and seeing a scene with the Greek god Fury. For a year, Fury assaulted me in all directions, flanking left and right and all around me, sometimes alone, but mostly with legions, like Fury had recruited an army of Furies.

I thankfully ignored the gun and fell to the floor. I sobbed, and this sobbing continued, in between praying Psalm 91 aloud, for several hours until I had to shower and go to work.

Next week, I’ll share more details about this story and suicidal ideation.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Please call. (1-800-273-TALK)

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