British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed a minister to tackle suicide last week. This got me thinking. This must be a big problem in the UK for her to be pushed to take this radical step. Indeed the Guardian (UK) reported that the suicide rate amongst young females was rising and had reached record numbers for girls aged between 15 and 19. One hundred and seventy-seven (177) cases for that age group were reported in the country for 2017. The whole country had 5821 cases. Of these 4382 were males though on the whole suicide amongst men is declining in the country.
Life brings us challenges. One psychiatrist who has personally dealt with the issue of suicide Dr Scott Peck puts it succinctly: Life is difficult. He actually equates life to problems: ‘Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?’ He explains this in his seminal book, The Road Less Travelled.
I began to reflect on my own experience of the UK when I first arrived in the country in 2002 and have lived there for 5 years in all at different periods. I noticed that it was not glory land at all. I saw prostitution. I saw too much alcoholism. I heard ambulance sirens every now and then. I read newspaper reports about thousands of people taking anti-depressants. I realised that all human beings have problems, no matter where they live and no matter the skin colour. And I realised that I had been misled all my life that UK and the West in general is paradise. It dawned upon me that after all my good friend Dr Kenneth Koma was right when he warned us in ‘Education in Back Africa’ that not everything Western was a paragon of excellence.
This is the context in which I received the news of the appointment of the suicide minister. And I remember Dr Peck’s book. He teaches us that the difficulty of life is a truism that we must accept. If we accept it we actually transcend it. We embrace problems and look forward to dealing with them. This is a difficult thing because it is painful. It requires patience and perseverance. When successfully done, problem solving helps us to grow and gives us joy. We become champions. You can’t be a champion if you have not confronted a difficult situation and won. Sometimes we don’t succeed but next time we succeed and we are happy. Victory is sweetest when you have tasted defeat before. Dr Peck puts it’s aptly:
“Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. Problems are the cutting edge that distinguishes between success and failure. Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems, just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve. It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn’.
If you don’t learn to solve problems you are a candidate for failure in life. Dr Peck discovered that all his patients were people who were unable to solve their own problems. A lot of people actually avoid solving their problems. From his experience they would rather resort to taking drugs, either medical ones or the other kind. Some find succour in alcohol. The result is the onset of mental illness, he warns: ‘This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health’. And with mental breakdown comes suicide.
For me what it means is that we need to develop capacity to deal with our problems. The best way is to have a positive attitude towards life. This reminds me of another great book by another author, Dr Norman Vincent Peel, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’. In that book, the author teaches us to believe in ourselves and develop self-confidence: ‘BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. But with sound self-confidence you can succeed. A sense of inferiority and inadequacy interferes with the attainment of your hopes, but self-confidence leads to self-realization and successful achievement’.
When you have self-confidence you unleash powerful energy. You don’t need anybody to validate you. Your happiness does not hinge upon the number of Facebook likes or shares. You know that you are the righteousness of God. You know that you are made in the image of God Almighty. His power resides in you. You have both the mind and spirit of God. You are a royal priesthood. You walk and behave like the child of a king. But if you have the mind of a slave you walk defeated. You live defeated. And you will take away your life.
You need to realise that life is a battle. And that is how God in his own wisdom created it. Life is not fair-Has never been-Will never be. Right now former President Mugabe is enjoying himself in his old age. A man many regarded as a hero of the people, Morgan, is no more. Is this fair? But why, God? Such is life. Bad things happen to good people, they say. We can’t stop that but what matters is how do we respond?
Some things are easier said than done, I have heard many times. That doesn’t apply to me though. I specialiase in problem solving and I don’t deal with small issues. I deal with big issues that can scare many of you. When I look at my life, I had been a high flyer until 2010. The first strike was the death of my mother that devastated me. We were so close that I could know what she was thinking even without talking to her. She was the only person who would call me every year on my birthday without fail. In 2010 her voice fell silent. It was sudden as she was only 53. The next year it was the turn for my marriage to crumble. My very wife that I had put through school and took to the UK did the unthinkable. She rewarded me with a pregnancy by another man. Not only that; she also got a restraining order against me to keep me away from our son. I was ambushed. I never saw this coming. It was the most painful thing to happen to me, only second to my mother’s passing away. This left me almost bankrupt fighting the issue in British courts at great expense and ultimately divorced after a few years.
It was a very difficult moment in my life. I had very few people to call on. I couldn’t rely on fellow pastors. I couldn’t rely on relatives, except for my own siblings. In fact my bible warms me not to depend on man but God (Jeremiah 17:5). I took the bullets like a man of the bible and a scholar. I remained positive throughout. These were my problems and mine alone. I patented them. I had my bible with me. I had my motivational books in my head. Like King David I encouraged myself in the Lord. I sang psalms and hymns. The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr Peel also kept bubbling in my heart. So was ‘How to Stop Suffering and Start Living by Dr Murphy’. It was business as usual for me. Not once did I think about suicide. At that time my life wasn’t exciting as it is today; which always surprises even me. But I held on to reach the happiness that I have today. The strength of a man can only be seen when he is going through hell. But the troubles are not over. When the lady comes to Botswana she keeps the child way from me. At first I would get upset and go and see him. But not anymore. The battle is not mine. It is of the Lord. If I be a man of God, surely that’s his business and not mine. I know I will have the last laugh. I just need to be patient and thank the Lord for it all.
As a corollary, you can’t give me any good reason why you should take away your life. Embrace your troubles. Solve them with pleasure. Smile in the storm. Eventually you will see the sunshine. Life is a battle!