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.

How weird.

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?

14 Comments

  1. alexander hollins
    Mar 5, 2013

    It’s a thought that’s popped into my head now and then in a similar vein. I haven’t really considered it since I was 12, back when I was afraid I was going to become a monster and hurt a lot of people (long story, it was a valid fear).

    Kind of reminds me of the “The Guy with the eyes” By Spider Robinson. A character asks a junkie what heroin is like. He says, “It’s like dying. “

  2. Jenna
    Mar 5, 2013

    That’s kind of why my version of suicidal ideation is an intense urge to bolt. I want to abandon my life and run for the hills. I’ve actually done this several times. Mostly now I just fantasise about it, in the very times you describe. I want a vacation from my identity, and all the responsibilities that go with it.

  3. Ellixis
    Mar 5, 2013

    Honestly, it still comes a a surprise to me that most folks don’t think wistfully about suicide. I know it, but it startles me, because those thoughts have come to me more times than I can remember. They’re weirdly comforting, but I know that’s not me talking. That’s the brain chemicals.

    It’s worth keeping going. It’s still something that I think of now and then.

    • TheFerrett
      Mar 5, 2013

      And it is. But it’s one of those things where you remember that you’ve got your own unique burdens to bear, and some of them aren’t universal.

      I find that comforting.

  4. M.K. Hobson
    Mar 5, 2013

    Wow, interesting post. I too had no idea suicidal ideation wasn’t a common thing. When I’m under intense stress it is my favorite coping fantasy. Perhaps it’s more common among control freaks, as suicide is really the ultimate expression of a fantasy of control over ones’ self and ones’ environment, isn’t it? Also, for me, much of the attractiveness of such fantasies comes from how nicely they dovetail with self-pity. One can construct such lovely, tragic, melodramatic narratives around one’s self-snuffing. It’s weird how you can feel so narcissistically self-important and so loathsomely worthless at the same time.

    • LongHairedWeirdo
      Mar 7, 2013

      My understanding is that it’s a common symptom of depression, and that it’s a good sign that something is wrong – or, at least, not right enough. It’s sufficiently rare that it’s not exactly diagnostic, but it’s close. I now recognize any thought of suicide/death as a sign that things aren’t going well.

      But in a sense, I’ve been lucky – I’ve had significant undepressed stretches. I know what it’s like to have the thought of suicide pop up from mental habit, and realize that it now seemed foreign and ridiculous. So I’ve seen both sides.

      • TheFerrett
        Mar 11, 2013

        It’s common among depressives, but I was surprised to find how rare it was in the general population. Which doesn’t make us, you know, wrong, but it’s something that makes me realize how at odds I am with much of societal instincts.

        For me, it’s a chronic backbeat, but when it happens, I’m probably in trouble myself.

  5. Anna
    Mar 6, 2013

    Perhaps it’s because I actually attempted and thus got halfway over the fence, but I no longer have suicide fantasies. I used to; I felt like I was such a burden on everyone around me and oh, wouldn’t they be better off without me bringing them down? Then I tried it, and realized how much it hurt and angered every single one of them, how selfish it seemed to them. And I remembered feeling the same way when my best friend in high school committed suicide. And I was ashamed of myself for giving in to my weakness.
    Now, I stubbornly push aside such thoughts before they can even fully develop; “What if–” nope. “But–” nope. Even so, I thank you for writing this and making me feel less alone for the times I did think it. I know people who need to read this, so they’ll be receiving a link to this, as well.

  6. Radi
    Mar 6, 2013

    The only time I’ve seriously contemplated suicide is when my fear of becoming wholly dependent on others, and unable to carry out my wish to off myself all by my lonesome, comes out to play – basic control freakishness, as others have pointed out.
    And it’s been more of a “phew, at least I have a fool-proof way out” feeling. Death and the process of dying hold no terrors for me. Being trapped in an unresponsive body is my biggest nightmare. My first tattoo will be the words “DO NOT RESUSCITATE”, in my own handwriting, across my chest where EMTs cannot help but see it.

    Then again, I’ve also long since accepted that when the vital petro-chemical industry dies (most likely due to no more petroleum being available), I’ll very likely be among the first wave of people to die, considering how much my medications and necessary supplies depend on petro-chem for manufacture and transportation. Yet I’m not a supporter of the petro-chem industry whatsoever.

    I’ve faced death many times over in my life so far, and it really doesn’t bother me. After all, if I’m dead, there’s going to BE no “me” to be terrified of the process or the result. I’d have regrets, of course, but who has lived 40 years who doesn’t have at least a few? And considering I didn’t expect to live much past 35, every single day since has been a little happy jolt of “yes, I survived another day!”, followed immediately by “whoop-de-doo! another day of working a job I’m coming to loathe, all just so I can feed my earnings straight into the maw of the medical insurance industry”.

    What I’m positively terrified of is being incapacitated somehow with an active brain trapped in an unresponsive body, either unable to communicate at all with the outside world (aka, a kind of coma?), or worse still, able to communicate and unable to convince my caregiver(s) and loved ones that life like that is intolerable to me. Stuff like Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, etc – I can’t even bear to begin thinking of how I would cope (I have a feeling I wouldn’t, and would just off myself at the first chance after diagnosis). It matters not that there are millions of braver-than-me people worldwide who DO live with these and other such awful conditions, and more power to them, but my point is that THEY.ARE.NOT.ME and I.AM.NOT.THEM.

    I’ll end this wall of text right here.
    TL;DR: Death and the process of dying hold no terrors for me. Being trapped in an unresponsive body is my biggest nightmare.

  7. Karina
    Mar 6, 2013

    Dear Writer

    Thank you for this. A friend just sent this to me because she understands that the past few months have been tough and I have been finding it hard to stay alive and kicking. I have Bipolar, Borderline, Avoidant and Paranoid Personality Disorder. At 44 I have learned that sometimes I do need to take a ‘vacation’ from the world. Taking that time and providing myself with an environment that is supportive and healing is often the difference between surviving and not surviving. Last week I wanted to die and the thoughts of that were truly tormenting…… Today I am peaceful, creating, writing to you, listening to music, enjoying the sunshine and feeling so good. Thank you again for a beautiful and enlightening peace of writing – a little spark from your soul to mine. Karina. Sydney. Australia

  8. Emily
    Mar 7, 2013

    A friend of mine committed suicide in March 2011. It was enough of a shock to snap me out of my own suicidal thoughts and self harm. (Well, for the most part anyway.)

    I can’t help but think that if he’d only held on, whatever it was that was bothering him at the time wouldn’t be here anymore.

    All I can do is hope he is happier where he is now.

  9. soapwench
    Mar 14, 2013

    Thanks for writing this. I didn’t want to read it. I have someone very important in my life that promised himself suicide back in high school. He’s in his 50s now and he’s still here, but I live with the fear that after his son graduates high school, the lure of that peace may be too great.

    I love that you let so much of yourself out into the world to be shared with others. Thank you for doing that.

  10. Nonie
    Aug 12, 2013

    Me, I’m alive because my high-school depressions were passive; to use a knife or gun or rope would have required energy I didn’t have, and as for going out in noisy public places to get any kind of pills–WAUGH!

    But if I’d had to, say, press a button to stay alive? I don’t know.

    As an adult, I’ve only had one genuinely close call with suicidal intent, but two things stopped me:

    Realizing the complete lunacy of staring at myself in a mirror while holding a steak-knife to my neck and wondering whether to make a vague guess of where to use it or to go to the public library in the morning to check out a book on anatomy.

    And hearing the Clancy Brothers jigging through my head: “Now, depression’s not a million laughs, but suicide’s too dang’rous; Don’t go leppin’ out o’ buildin’s in the middle o’ the night; ‘Tis not the fall but landin’ that’ll alter yer social standin’…”

    And the sheer ridiculousness of that made me pause long enough to also remember Dorothy Parker on the subject. So, my life was saved by being able to snicker.

    Perspective and humor: whew!

    –Nonie, glad to be here

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