On Suicide

Thu Jan 2, 2014

I lost four friends and relatives of friends to suicide this past year. I’d prefer it if 2014 were different, and I’ve been trying to think about how to make that happen.

The least I could do is offer myself to anyone who feels alone otherwise: so, if you’re at that point where you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please please please call or write to me. I’d really like that, even if you don’t feel like it would help in any way, even if we’ve never met.

The more difficult thing for me to do, and the one that I’ve been putting off for months, is to write a bit about what it feels like to reach that point. I won’t claim that my experiences are universal in any way, but maybe some parts will resonate with others who’ve gone to similar places.

I would really not like to alarm anyone, so please just take everything here literally. Suicide is, unfortunately, stigmatized in such a way that it’s extremely difficult to write about non-anonymously for fear of scaring friends. That seems like the start of a vicious cycle.

I’ve never felt very attached to life, even when things are going great (as they are now). I have a theory that human beings naturally vary in how much they value their own lives, just like they vary in how much they value having things like fancy cars. People who are a couple standard deviations on the low-value-on-life side don’t necessarily have worse lives than other people; it’s just that they’re not as attached to their lives. I think I’m definitely pretty far on the low end.

But on the other hand, there’s a lot of people that I love in the world, and I have some sense that there are people in the world who feel the same way about me. So therefore I can understand that my death would make those people feel absolutely terrible, and I don’t want that to happen.

Sometimes I get sad and feel like the future isn’t going to be better than the past. I think the word that gets used a lot for this kind of prolonged sadness is “depression.” When this happens, there’s an absurd number of social barriers to talking about it openly. I feel like the number of friends I have, effectively, is suddenly reduced from dozens to one or two if I’m lucky.

So imagine that things are getting kind of hopeless and your effective friend number is down to two. You’re thinking about talking to these two people about your not-doing-great, but you have to stop and think about:

  1. Would this cause them unnecessary stress? Are they doing okay in their own lives?

  2. If you bring up allusions to suicide, would they do something dramatic against your will, such as call a hospital?

  3. If you do end up hurting yourself in some way, would they feel guilty about it forevermore because they couldn’t save you when they had the chance?

  4. What if they tell you that your life is great and people love you? How do you explain to them that even though those are facts, they have no relevance to how things are going inside your head?

  5. What if they think that you’re telling them this just because you want their attention or pity? Maybe that’s what you’re doing, subconsciously.

All these are fantastic reasons for you to keep silent. Also, there’s the fear that someone will never see you in the same way again once you admit to them that you’ve been looking at tables comparing various common methods of suffocation. It is generally not advantageous to come off as vulnerable or unstable.

That all just sucks. It’s shocking to me that anyone can learn to ask for help at all.

Earlier this year, I didn’t really feel like talking about suicide ever. Still, I observed thought patterns that were fascinating to me because they seemed unorthodox/taboo and yet rational in a way that often gets ignored in most conversations about suicide. I ended up writing them down in an essay and publishing them anonymously here.

After writing that piece, I found the nerve to talk to a few people. Those were some of the best conversations that I remember from 2013, and I think they’ve given me a new understanding of how friendship acts as a psychological anchor.

But there’s places where that anchor doesn’t fall deep enough. I get to those places sometimes and feel really alone and stuck. It helps to remind myself that things usually somehow end up getting better if I just wait it through.

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