Monday, September 15, 2008

middle-aged suicide (don’t do it…or maybe do if you have to)

Sometimes I hear about suicides and a part of me thinks, So in the end, you really just couldn’t get over yourself? I can imagine feeling despondent or dulled-out. I’ve felt like that, although I know I have to be careful not to confuse chronic and acute. I can imagine feeling quite convinced that life had nothing very good to offer me. But that doesn’t mean that I have nothing to offer life.

When I picture that rock-bottom feeling, I remind myself of my plan: Assuming I’m still in decent physical health, I will get myself a minimum wage job consisting of motions one can go through even when profoundly depressed. Then, on evenings and weekends, I will go to a homeless shelter and ladle soup, another simple action one can perform while depressed. That way I won’t sentence my family and friends to a lifetime of wondering if they failed me, and I’ll also be confident that I’m still pushing back on the world in a positive if small way.

I don’t think that earthly life is infinitely precious—I think there are other worlds and we have other chances—which is why I’m okay with abortion and committing suicide if your body and/or mind is decaying in some unfathomably terrible way. But I do think earthly life is sort of precious, which is why I think we should spend our time here helping people instead of, say, killing them or doing PR for Old Navy. Hence my plan.

But when I read the New York Times obit on David Foster Wallace today (is it just me or is it a little tacky to try to mimic an author’s style in his obituary?), I didn’t feel that mix of anger and sadness so much as just sadness.

His father said, “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”

In that way, depressed people are dealing with a kind of unfathomably terrible mental decay. My rock-bottom plan assumes a lot of things, not the least of which is that I’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning to go to the aforementioned easy job and soup kitchen. I’ve been picturing the kind of depression I know, the kind where you might feel like you’re moving through water, but you can still move. And in my scenario, my little puritan work ethic and my belief that the world is worth saving—that morality and even reality are real—are still in tact.

I’m basically asking people whose every cell tells them life isn’t worth living to believe that life is worth living, which, by definition, they don’t. And while that kind of depression may seem self-indulgent, it’s also undeniably true. I think the most we can do is to try to make sure the world is a kind enough place that people don’t kill themselves for circumstantial reasons (being gay, the stock market, lack of access to health care, etc.), and that those that do, for whatever variety of star-crossed reasons, are mourned instead of condemned.


Claire said...

It's funny, people often call suicide selfish, but setting aside familiar relationships for the moment, it's so arrogant to think that in the vastness of the universe that one life actually matters. (Oops, depression spill on aisle 4.)

It's good you have a plan, and maybe it would work for you. For me, the mindless min. wage job would probably do me in. The depressed people I've known wouldn't have been motivated enough to apply for the job in the first place.

Still, my reaction to hearing about suicides still tends to be that it's tragic. But then when I read about the physical suffering Spalding Grey was going through, e.g., prior to his suicide, I totally understand.

Cheryl said...

Yeah, my realization was that my plan actually probably wouldn't work for me unless I wasn't really all that suicidal to begin with. So maybe it's my medium- to somewhat-intense depression plan, not my suicide-avoidance plan.

Peter Varvel said...

Well-written post - eloquent - thank you. Tricky, sensitive subject. Depressed as I may have been in the past, I have never approached even close to feeling suicidal. I always end up feeling grateful that there is at least one person I know that would be really pissed off at me if I took my life, and I could never do that to her.

Jesi said...

i tried killing myself 5 years ago. i wasn't really trying to kill myself, i just wanted to go away for awhile, i was hoping that life could have an on/off button, which of course it doesn't. i was incredibly depressed, the kind of depression that you cannot even get out of bed. it's like a never ending pain, a broken arm that never heals, like you're in an open grave with no ladder and it's raining and all muddy and no matter how hard you climb you keep falling back down. you get so tired of feeling this way, so fucking tired and there is nothing, no pill, no love, no person, no nothing that can keep you to keep keeping on. it's fucking terrible. i would rather have cancer than be depressed. no one understands or can relate to you when you are depressed. i would rather be an alcoholic, be a drug addict cuz somehow people are able to understand, wrap their mind around those things. but if you say you are depressed or an insomniac, people don't understand why you don't just snap out of it. they have had bad lives too, they feel like shit too, so what's your problem? every person has their own ways with dealing with shit, ie, exercising, writing, therapy, etc. but that doesn't work for all of us. there's a lot more to it. it's the mind you have to convince to keep living. the body naturally wants to live, but the mind doesn't. and sometimes the only cure is suicide and yes i do consider suicide to be a cure. drugs, counseling, etc etc sometimes cannot help. sometimes the person who is suffering needs to be put out of their misery. and to me that's not selfish. i think this life is shit. and death is actually life. yep, i just said it, this life is death and death is life. this may seem grim to others but not to me. believe it or not this actually helps me. it makes me not take things so serious. and it helps that i have a wicked sense of humor.

Jesi said...

btw, my post isn't arguing with your post. i was just trying to convey to you and others how it feels to be suicidal or depressed. and i was just sharing my thoughts on suicide.

Anonymous said...

Have you read DFW's short story "The Depressed Person"? I remember there was a lot of contempt for the DP, which now seems like part self-loathing.


Cheryl said...

PV: Yeah, thank god for those folks, right?

J: Thanks so much for your comment. And, in case it's not obvious, I'm VERY happy you were unsuccessful in your attempt, because then I never would have gotten to know the passionate and interesting and fun lady that is you.

I too suspect that there's some interesting stuff awaiting us when we die (not fluffy clouds, necessarily, but maybe infinite dream montages? Time travel? Reincarnation? The ability to haunt the people who tormented you in high school?).

Still, I'm a make-the-best-of-your-situation kind of girl, which makes me think (in that annoying non-depressed way), Well, I'm here. Might as well get to work.

Cheryl said...

T: I haven't--in fact, I haven't read any of his stuff, unfortunately. But yes, that makes sense, because what's more depressing than hating yourself?

Jesi said...

one of the things that keeps me keeping on is my cats. who would take care of them, who would feed them? plus hearing their purrs comforts me. so anyone depressed/suicidal needs to get a pet. they really do help.