Hopefully the title of this piece does not cause any alarm. But I’d like to talk about the “s” word without sounding suicidal. Which I’m not.
Recently here in Australia, a well known and well liked actor starring in an Australian TV show killed himself. This news, combined with my own internal contemplations of late, has created this post.
Now, I know I’m not suicidal, because if I was going to do it, there’s a specific night around eight years ago that it would have been all over for me in this lifetime. Sayonara. Goodnight.
Also, with everything I’ve been through in the past few years, not once have I seriously thought about it.
However, it would be true to say I have very mixed feelings about the whole concept of suicide.
For example, I’m pro-euthanasia: humanely allowing people to end their misery if they choose to with a sane mind. I don’t think that should be a crime for either the person dying or the person(s) helping them. Especially where someone has chronic pain or an incurable disease that will eventually rob them of their dignity.
In my early 20’s, I had a friend, Rhett. I don’t have that friend any more because one day he killed himself. No one knew he was feeling so bad or that he had suicidal tendencies. He got stoned off his tree, drove to a nearby beach, and threw himself over the edge of a cliff.
His death brought utter devastation to the lives of his friends and family. The funeral, a cremation, looked like a car crash scene. It was unbearable to look anyone in the eye because of the haunted, lost and searching expressions that pervaded. His brother, whom I’d once dated, cried openly in my arms.
Fifteen years later and I still think of Rhett from time to time. I can’t quite believe that he did what he did. Sometimes I wonder what his life might have been like if he’d just reached out and told someone he was feeling really crappy. And I think of his family, for whom the grief may never end as long as they live.
Then in the year 2000, a very torrid, passionate and self-destructive relationship I was in came to a screeching halt. Metal and against metal, my ex A, ended things painfully, harshly. It’s possibly the only way he could’ve ended things to make it stick. Prior to this I’d been in counselling, trying to get over him and not go back or take him back. So it shouldn’t have come as such a shock, given we’d been on and off for over eighteen months. But it did. And it was.
To blot out the pain, I threw myself into my stupid meaningless job. Friday night drinks would turn into a bender, and I began to understand why people anesthetise themselves with alcohol. Sometimes it can really help for a bit, I thought at the time. In retrospect, I’d say I was suffering shock and depression.
I can’t remember what night of the week it was, but I came home and my flatmate wasn’t there. She was staying at her boyfriend’s place like she often did and our little flat was empty. Since I was crying most nights anyway, that kind of suited me.
Fragility is a funny thing. Physically you can be really strong and powerful, but the state of helplessness siphons that away. The sensation that your bones will crack with the slightest touch replaces any strength you possess.
And that night something had cracked and was desperately broken.
I knew I was in trouble when no matter what, I couldn’t stop crying. I tried practicing breathing that I knew from yoga. I talked sternly to myself. I walked around the flat and tried to do stuff to distract. But nope, I was still crying uncontrollably.
Sitting on the couch, everything went a little dark and it seemed as though I’d paid admission to a jerky fun park ghost ride: Welcome… to your own personal dark night of the soul…
Down, down, down. The further I plunged, the more painful things got and I knew, I just knew right then I needed some help.
My thoughts had turned to how I could stop feeling so torn. This is the first time I’d seriously considered suicide in my life. I reached the bottom of that ocean, and it was decision time. Black thoughts, deepening darkness and intentions of eradicating myself. But no… I touched the sandy ocean floor and kicked back towards the surface again.
In the moment of my worst pain, I was glad to know that about myself. But still, I hurt ferociously. So the next step was thinking I needed to create some other sort of pain. Like, how when you cut your finger but then bang your head and you don’t notice the finger anymore? That’s what I was thinking. Of cutting.
Around this time I was hysterical. So much so I thought it would be a good idea to call my mother. Call mummy. But this was my first important lesson in why I should never call my mother when in this kind of state.
She picks up and I’m crying like a banshee. She asks me what’s wrong but I can’t talk. I can barely catch my breath. After trying for a few minutes to get me to talk, coldly she says: “Stop acting like a baby. Grow up and stop crying.”
This shocks me awake enough to hang up the phone. She doesn’t try to call back. Not that night and not the next day either. She never mentions it to me again.
Eventually I get up the nerve to call my counsellor – because it was late, I’d hesitated, not wanting to bother her. But she was the correct choice all along. She helped me work things out and find a way through the night. But I’ve never forgotten that plunge to the depths of my dark side.
Last week I was driving with my mum over to my nan’s house and there was a news story on the radio about the actor who committed suicide.
I start saying how sad it was, how it’s such a terrible experience for those left behind. About then Mum got all reactive which is pretty normal for her.
She said she doesn’t see it that way. Foolishly I tried to debate it with her a bit, but she’s not interested as per usual. There’s an old standard argument ender in my family – “If you’re right, then I must be wrong again”. It’s used to shut down so many conversations it’s just not funny. And it drives me batty because there’s no way to talk to someone who takes that stance. Both my parents do it actually and I want to shake them from their comatose animal realm view of life each and every time. So she pulls that line out and for now the conversation is over.
A little later she said: “I’ve got news for you. If the doctors couldn’t save my arm with this last operation, they were going to amputate it. And if that happened I wasn’t going to live. I had it all planned out, with the pills and everything.”
I tell her that I don’t think she could or would actually go through with it. That she has a baby grand-daughter and another on the way and I just don’t believe she’d do it.
She admitted that her grand daughter was the only thing that made her think twice, but she was going to try and go through with it if she had the balls. She thought it was about balls.
But I’m not so sure it’s about courage when it comes to suicide. My completely unqualified opinion is this: I think people stop identifying with themselves and instead identify only with the pain. Really bad pain that they can’t see a way out of it whilst they’re alive. But because they don’t like the pain, they want to end it. And since they’ve stopped identifying with themselves as a valued individual, it really isn’t a big deal for them to end their life.
All of this said… I still have mixed feelings about suicide. I mean, it’s not for others to judge how much pain someone else is in. But it’s always my hope that people feel they can just tell someone else how they’re feeling. Because I truly believe part of what makes us feel so bad is keeping it to ourselves. Thinking no one else could understand, and that there’s no end to how we feel.
Righto then… just to complicate matters I can truly empathise with those who do take their lives even though I wish they’d try to work it out another way.
A lot of the inner world thinking that belongs to the darker part of myself – as opposed to the sage yogi part of myself – is probably not that healthy. And its active right now unfortunately…
For example: “There’s not one person who relies on me for anything in their daily life, except for going to work. So, if I just vanished from this world… its not like it would make a huge difference to anyone.”
This is despite knowing from my friend Rhett’s death just how it is for those left behind.
But when these trains of thought are in operation, I completely agree with what I’m telling myself.
“It’s such a shame really that I have to endure this existence. I’d probably have a better shot at liberation in another lifetime anyway. It would be simpler for me not to be here. What would it really matter?”
Oh, so this voice also engages with the yogic part of my being too! And tries to incorporate yogi philosophy about life and death. Luckily, I know better.
On my side, is the knowledge it’s not what I want. But the dark thoughts, they persist, tormenting and whispering…
This post is for all those out there feeling low. Get help, reach out. Trust that others care, no matter what you tell yourself.
And god bless Mark Priestly. I hope he found some peace in the after-death state.