Monday, August 25, 2014
Suicide: An Act Of Supreme Bravery
by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
You've got to be mad brave to whack yourself. Yep, suicide takes a lot of balls. The most courage any human can ever muster. Suicides are the bravest people who ever lived, because they commit the greatest act possible -- a deed against actual existence, against their very being. They say no to life itself, and then have the courage of that unbelievable conviction to end everything. Suck on the barrel of a gun or cast themselves down from a great height on to the indifference of solid ground.
And we often resent them for it. Because they say no to all of us, to all of us who persist in living. They place the idea of living in jeopardy. They undermine our pathetic belief in life. How could they? How dare they?
Why do they say no to life? Because for them, living is not worthy. Life is too crappy to merit a fart. Not up to scratch. They feel this way because they are depressed. So depressed, there is no more pleasure in being alive; only persistent, absolute pain. And no advice from the living can help.
I know about that.
I've been mortally depressed in my life, clinically depressed, and thought about committing suicide, but never got around to trying it. (I believe I saved myself from depression by exercise: as a runner all my life, I think I finally ran my topsy-turvy brain chemistry into balance: if more people exercised, we'd need fewer therapists.)
From my own vantage point as a former depressive, I can attest to the fruitlessness of advice to the suicidal. Really, it's quite obnoxious for people to say, "pull up your socks" or to tell you that "life is good."
Life is not good all the time. It's not automatically OK to be alive. And it's completely myopic to go through life and not recognize that it is fraught. Life does not by itself provide us with a plethora of reasons to go on living it. It's not like hope is a built-in feature of day-to-day experience. We're all vulnerable: we all have anxiety and agony and despair. Life is a struggle. I, for one, am an extremely happy person, but maybe it's because I'm not depressed anymore, so every day seems like a blessing, a freebie after a lifetime of mental suffering.
The incomparable Beckett said: "No, I regret nothing. All I regret is having been born. Dying is such a long, tiring business, I always found."
Negativity is a justified response to life. Life is not always bearable -- we've all felt that. Sometimes it seems there is a societal pressure that you simply MUST enjoy your life. But that has a hollow ring to those who don't have a good time of it. There's something offensive about such heartiness. As though you owe it to others to be happy.
All those happy people being happy around you, can depress the heck out of a person.
Let's face it, life is how society regulates and defines us. And society is less than perfect, because it is human. Life is politics, too, and given our current politics and state of the nation -- which seems to foster unemployment, poverty, homelessness, isolation, misogyny, homophobia, patriarchy, the whole gamut of fear and hate that pervades social discourse -- no wonder some folks feel like killing themselves. It's not like our politics enhance the joy of being in the world. It's not like society is all that conducive to the pursuit of happiness. It's not like we live in the greatest country on earth, much as we try to persuade ourselves that we do. I've always felt that people who crow that America is the greatest country on earth, are not only lying to themselves, or blithely ignorant of societies way more successful than ours -- Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany -- but also trying to cover up for a complete hollowness at their core. In fact, according to polls, most Americans feel quite pessimistic about the future these days.
What makes life worth living? Meaningful work, someone to love, a great sex life, a good dog. And how many of us have that all the time? I'd go so far as to say that only one in a hundred have work that they can call meaningful. Not all of us are teachers, doctors, nurses, artists or firefighters. Most of us are clerks, corporate wage slaves, bureaucrats, middle managers, fast-food peons, lawyers, Wall Street speculators, paper pushers, cubicle occupiers, etc. How meaningful is your job?
There are two kinds of suicide: one, from depression, and two, what we may call "situational" suicide: Allende killing himself because he wanted to deprive his American-backed democracy-destroyers of the opportunity to do it for him, or someone killing themselves because of some traumatic incident, like a loved one dying, or some terrible disappointment, or having been in a war. Those are suicides on the spur of an awful moment, not suicides that come from an ongoing despair in life.
But how do depressed people actually get it together to kill themselves? After all, when you're really depressed, you can't do anything. You can't even get out of bed. You lie there in a helpless stupor, filled with pain like a balloon is filled with air. You don't have the energy to commit suicide.
So from where do depressed folks get the oomph to ding themselves?
In order for a depression suicide to happen, these three things have to be present, says one expert:
1. You have to feel disconnected from people, utterly alone and abandoned.
2. You have to feel you're a burden to others.
3. You have to be in a state of fearlessness.
Number three is very interesting. Where does this fearlessness come from -- this resolve that you are not fearful of death, as we all are, but welcome it? From where do the suicidal get their will, their filip and their zing to commit such an immensity of deed? A therapist told me that when depressed people start feeling a little better, that's the dangerous stage. That's when they have the energy to commit suicide, and usually do it.
But imagine the energy and resolve you need to do that. To say, it's just not OK for me be alive; I'd rather be dead; being dead is the best choice I have. To weigh one against the other -- life versus death -- and choose against everything around you. I can't go on like this, the only way out is not to exist.
Raising your hand against yourself: what a sublime act of self-affirmation. It's not an affirmation of life, or of death, but of self. I am so in charge of my destiny, I can choose to end it. It's so self-affirming, it's rather selfish -- your suffering ends, but that of your friends and family begin.
The Japanese practice of seppuku or harakiri is quite instructive. In order to leave life, they believe they have to touch life first: to make their death as painful as possible, to get intensely involved with life, by disemboweling themselves. It's the moral thing to do: to make your death as painful as possible, to be most in touch with life when you die.
I think we should feel very sorry for folks who annihilate themselves, besides being surprised that spectacularly successful people do it, too -- Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, Alexander McQueen.
But I also admire people who commit suicide. What a brave thing to do. I can't imagine a greater existential decision: to decide this life is not for you, this thing we're all in together. To set yourself apart from all others, in choosing death instead of life. How many of us give ourselves that choice? How many of us dare to take our lives that far?
And then to do it: to extinguish yourself. Blow yourself out like a candle.
There is nothing braver or more courageous than being a suicide. They do something we're too chicken to do. There's a great and elevated dignity in suicide. It's a move against all creation. A rejection of the entire world. It's so individualistic: the most blatant act of sheer, extravagant freedom. Very American. Praise-worthy. Good job, Robin Williams. You found a way out of your pain. You found relief in easeful death.
The great Keats, who died too young, had a few words on the topic:
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain
So let's not simply feel sorry for suicides. They choose what is best for them. Give them that. They deserve more than our pity.
Let's salute all suicides.
Posted by Evert Cilliers at 12:35 AM | Permalink