I’ve contemplated death by my own hand more times than I can even begin to recount. I’ve considered a plethora of techniques: jumping, hanging, shooting, overdose, cutting. I even considered purchasing an “exit bag” – a humane means of achieving painless asphyxiation using a plastic bag and helium gas.
Intermission: if you are currently contemplating suicide, stop what you are doing right now and reach out for help.
Morbid stuff. It’s very difficult for people that have never experienced depression to grasp the inherent logic in such an endeavor. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” they say. True enough, though I nonetheless contend that the decision to end one’s own life is not always the irrational choice that truism insinuates.
Imagine for a moment that you wake up with the worst hangover of your life. The kind where getting out of bed is impossible. Your mouth is dry, your head foggy, your stomach churning. It’s an entire body, mind, and soul kind of hangover. You feel like you’re dying inside, like maybe this time you broke something with this last drinking session…except, you know if you just tough it out for a day, you will feel better. You know if you drink lots of water, take some ibuprofen for your splitting headache, and some Pepto for your sour stomach, you’ll slog through it and live to drink another day.
Now I want you to imagine waking up like that every day for weeks and months. And what if I told you that this awful hangover disease is chronic. You can stave it off with vigilant adherence to medication, but it is always going to be there, like an unwelcome passenger, waiting on a brief lapse in memory or vigilance to pounce. How long do you really think it would take before you considered ending your own life? That’s what chronic depression is like.
Yes, depression is a very treatable disease, but at some point you begin to wonder when the next episode will come, how long it will last, and how deep you will plunge into its icy depths. People can only take so much pain, some more or less than others, but we all have our breaking point. That is why people kill themselves. It’s not that they want to die, it’s that they cannot live with the pain. It’s a scary thing. You can feel great one day, but you still know that the next episode is out there somewhere and it’s quite possibly going to be worse than the last. Is it also going to get the better of you? It most certainly could. That’s not hyperbole, that’s a fact.
For my part, I don’t want to die either. I want to live. I want to see my daughter grow up. I want to be with my wife. I want to reach retirement one day and not have to go to work. There are a million things I want to do. However, I have to wonder, what if I hit my breaking point? What if it becomes too much? I feel good now – great in fact, but each depressive episode I encounter is progressively worse. It scares me, frankly. I’m doing all I can to fight it: I’ve quit drinking (finally), I’m seeing the world’s best therapist (looking at you Shannon), I’m taking my medications, I’m exercising semi-regularly, and most importantly, I’m being honest with myself about my state of mind and how it got there. I hope that will be enough.
I do NOT advocate suicide for the depressed; but I wanted to just talk a bit about the reasoning behind it, and hopefully dispel the myth that it’s selfish or irrational. Suicide is many things, none of them good, but it is neither of those oft cited adjectives.
I’ll end with a quote from the late David Foster Wallace – a man that lived with severe, chronic depression and ultimately ended his own life:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
~ David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)