Let’s Talk About Suicide
When I was a teenager, I fantasized about suicide in the way one might consider a good night’s sleep. My life thrummed to a constant backbeat of “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if I wasn’t around.” I’d think about ways to do it, decided all of them involved too much pain or messiness, and I really couldn’t do that to Mom and Dad and Tommy anyway, and I’d set it back on the shelf like a favorite DVD, to be replayed later. Suicide was my copy of Princess Bride, a luxuriation of thoughts of nothingness and coffins to sink into when I was stressed out.
It took me a long time to understand how rare and bizarre those fantasies were.
LiveJournal woke me up; I did some poll on suicidal thoughts, and I discovered that the idea of self-harm hadn’t even occurred to most of the people on my friends’ list. And my friends’ list was filled with freaks like me. So I did some checking, and sure enough, the vast majority of people, even when faced with massive stress, never think about offing themselves. The idea never presents itself as an option.
Yet here I am, a supposedly healthy adult, and about once a week when something wrong happens, I go, “Oh, that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?” The idea is like a pretty garden, walled off with barbed wire and high taxes; the cost of getting there is ridiculously painful, but sort of sweet in its own way.
When I talk to other suicidal people, though, they often feel the same way. Their lovers have betrayed them, their job is full of stress and uncertainty, they can’t pay the bills, and their health is fluctuating. And so they seek suicide, and some of them get it.
Here’s the problem, though. What many of them don’t want is suicide.
They want a vacation.
For me, these thoughts of suicide often arise because I’ve got so much stress in my life that I can’t possibly stop the hits from coming. If I’m in the middle of a huge emotional fight with my girlfriend and work is filled with deadlines, I can’t take a day off – and even if I could, I’d be filled with so much worry about oh my God what’s going to happen with Doreen, what does it mean that she’s so mad can we work this out oh God she’s calling now please let us not fight that the day off would be useless. There would be literally nowhere I could go to get away from my worries; I’d carry them with me. The only thing I could do would be to try to sleep (which I couldn’t) or maybe take some pills or alcohol to try to blot it out.
And I think: If I was dead, none of this would matter.
That blankness seems so glorious.
But I don’t go down that barbed path, because while suicide does technically stop all those troubles, it also ensures that I would never get to hit the unpause button and find new lovers, work through my unhappiness, and find joy again. Which I have done, time and time again. Life seems so overwhelming and futile, yet if I buckle down and work at it, I usually find a way to get somewhere better.
It’s not a promise, of course; nothing is. But I can think of several times I was like oh my God I can’t handle this where if I’d hit the perma-kill button, I never would have seen the other side. Me, as an awkward lonely teenager, convinced I would never find a girl willing to hold me. Me, as a twentysomething crazy person, convinced I’d never get it together. Me, at the helm of a failing division at Borders, convinced I would get fired and never have a career again. Me, in the first year of my crumbling marriage with Gini, convinced we’d never work this out.
That’s an awful lot of nevers in my life that proved to be totally untrue.
And you know, I’ve known a lot of suicidal folks. A lot of them wind up happy later on. It can happen. Does more often than you’d think, really. Those nevers actually often turn out to be merely formidable problems – not the impassable barrier of a never, but a wall that can be chipped away, one fleck at a time, until you break a hole in it big enough to slither through.
And no. You don’t get to rest while you’re working on that wall, and it’s exhausting and frustrating and hurtful, oh so hurtful. But that work, more often than not, is rewarded in my experience – not just my personal experience, but watching other people go through it time and time again. You want to just lie down and fucking rest and not have people ask you any questions, and no, you can’t have that now.
But there is some peace waiting on the other side. More importantly, there’s more joy to be mined out of this life, more beauty, more chances to try again than you’d ever believe in this moment of despair.
So what I’m saying to you right now if you feel overwhelmed is, don’t confuse your need for a vacation for an actual life-ending. Hey, if I could give you a magic box to put yourself in where you could just pause the world and read books and breathe for a week, I totally would. That would probably make things a lot easier for you, because right now you feel like a boxer, with blow after blow hitting you and that goddamned referee refusing to ring the bell and give you a break.
Sometimes suicide looks like that break. But the problem with suicide is that you never get to hit that unpause button, and more often than not that’s a tragedy that affects everyone around you and you.
So think about your vacation. Revel in it. But be realistic about what that very permanent step would actually mean. Okay?