This post is in response to news stories about suicide. The following quote is from an article posted by Medscape, June 7, 2018. (The article, U.S. Suicides Increasing at ‘Alarming Rate,’ Says CDC, was written by Deborah Brauser.)
“Suicide rates continue to rise dramatically for adults in the United States, according to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released today.
Between 1999 and 2016, the time of the latest estimates, half of the states saw at least a 30% increase in suicide rates. And all states except Nevada increased by at least 6%. Overall, there were almost 45,000 total deaths by suicide in 2016 alone.
“And, unfortunately, our data show that the problem is getting worse,” Anne Schuchat, MD, principal deputy director of the CDC, said at a press briefing.
Suicide rates from 1999 to 2016 increased in all age groups younger that 75 years, with the greatest increase shown in “middle-aged adults” aged 45 to 64 years. (Link to article, https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/897804?nlid=123049_3901)
Various news sources reported on the suicide of fashion designer, Kate Spade, earlier this week. On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, Ms. Spade was found dead in her Manhattan apartment. Her death was ruled a suicide by hanging. She was age 55.
I know several people who have lost family members to suicide. Each of them had some understanding of the difficulties that drove their loved ones to end their lives. Even so death by suicide wounded them more than death by some other cause. Second-guessing about what they should have done or not done intensified their grief. This is different from the suicides of those facing terminal illnesses and choosing to die with dignity.
When life is difficult, anticipation of a long, restful sleep makes death seductive. I have felt the pull of that seduction nearly every day of my life. I made three serious suicide attempts. The first was at age 12; the last was at age 23 — almost 50 years ago. I have vowed not to end my life with suicide. I’m an old woman, and I’m no longer anyone’s priority. My death by natural causes would cause only momentary sadness in those who know me. My suicide, however, would wound many. I choose not to do that.
Many years ago, I explored the concept of suicide using the Intensive Journal. It turned out to be a valuable experience. I’m sharing the results of that exploration in story form.
A Conversation with Suicide
(This story is a revision of entries in my Poustinia Journal for July 1988.)
Once upon a time, I asked Suicide to talk with me. Suicide had long been a seductive presence in my life, and I wanted to confront this. The conversation did not go as I expected. Mr. Suicide introduced himself with words before he showed himself as an image. Here is his introduction:
Mr. Suicide Introduces Himself
I began with your distant ancestors.
I was passed on to you by your grandparents and parents.
I had my beginnings for you in the accident of your conception.
I grew in each rejection you experienced no matter how subtle.
I grew also in each of your successes and the jealousies and rejections they caused.
I grew in your confusion about life and its meaning or lack of it.
I grew in your misbelief that you were ‘different’ and a ‘misfit.’
I was the attempt to make real the illusion that you should never have been.
I was to have been done in secret, sparing others’ feelings as much as possible.
I was an attempt to undo the wrong of your existence.
Frustration: I was the solution of ‘last resort.’
I am a lie.
I have always failed.
At first Suicide was only a presence: cool, silent, empty, seductive. This was death with control — the ultimate control of life. When Suicide eventually materialized, it appeared as the Ghost of Christmas Future from the Alistair Sims’ version of A Christmas Carol.
Suicide sat in an overstuffed armchair across from mine. We were in a living room where the lights had been dimmed so that we were only visible to each other. The rest of the room was in shadow.
I began, “Suicide, I want to speak with you.”
The response was a sibilant, “Yeeesss?”
Slightly exasperated and trying not to let it show, I continued, “You’ve been a part of my life on several occasions. Actually, in a mild form you are always present. The depression is a nonlethal form of self-murder — like living in a coma. Not quite as final as physical death, but often as effective. You’ve whispered your seductions like a siren. You’ve spoken aloud only seldom. Will you speak with me out loud — now?”
Continuing with the sibilant whisper, the speech slow and languid, “If I must. I’m quiet by nature. What would you have me say? What can I tell you that you do not already know about me?”
I went on, “I only want you to come out of hiding, to reveal yourself as something more solid so that I can understand you better, and therefore understand part of my life. Who are you?”
Suicide answered, “I’m the ultimate in control over your life. I am the final solution. A solution of last resort.”
“I’m the ultimate in control over your life. I am the final solution. A solution of last resort.”
At this point the conversation was interrupted.
When we met again several hours later, I felt a lot of resistance in my body: convulsive movements around my abdomen, head arching back, mouth opening to form a silent scream. Then Suicide appeared as a robed and hooded figure, a dark shadow instead of a face. Only hands were showing, no indication of male or female, the voice a sibilant whisper. We were again sitting in armchairs in the darkened living room.
I began, “Suicide, I want to try talking with you again. I seem to have more things to say to you about you than questions to ask. I’m afraid this will become a monologue, and I really want you to speak, too. Why have you been such a large part of my life? You’ve been seductive and compelling at times. Most often you’ve been a constantly repeated litany or mantra of ‘I want to die’.”
Suicide began in the familiar sibilant voice which almost imperceptibly shifted to normal, masculine speech. (He had become ‘Mr. Suicide.’) “I’m your way of gaining control over your life when all else has failed. When you can do nothing more, you can always choose to die. But if you’re successful, it’s a choice you can make only once. I can be a final triumph of control. Remember how pleased you were when you finally dived from that runaway horse so you’d have an excuse to freeze to death. ‘I did it! I did it!’ you said.”
I responded, “Yes, I remember. But I didn’t die. Twenty degree temperature was too warm to freeze to death quickly enough. I was afraid I’d only be crippled. I wanted to be either wholly alive or wholly dead — nothing in between. But I remember chuckling to myself when the doctor said my skull might be cracked. Thinking maybe I’d succeeded after all, and hoping I had.”
Mr. Suicide replied, “But you’ve always failed, you know. I don’t think you’ve really wanted me. You’ve only wanted to stop hurting and to take control of your life by choosing when and how to die. It really wasn’t much of a choice, you know. Death was as much of an unknown to you as were the solutions to your problems. It’s an unknown that you are required to experience. It’s the unknown involved in resolving your problems that’s a real choice. There are lots more alternatives there even though it may not feel like it. There are always options. But you may need help to see them.
“You’ve only wanted to stop hurting and to take control of your life by choosing when and how to die.”
“…Death was as much of an unknown to you as were the solutions to your problems. It’s an unknown that you are required to experience.”
“…It’s the unknown involved in resolving your problems that’s a real choice.”
I agreed, “You’re right, of course. I know what you’re saying is true. It’s the pain and frustration I feel that makes death attractive. I get so tired of fighting. Sometimes I’m absolutely exhausted and want so much just to rest, to be free from the struggle.”
“There are times when you should rest,” Mr. Suicide advised. “But you should not try to find it through me. Rest in God instead. Give Him your struggles for a while. Rest in other people if they are available. Know that the final rest will come eventually. It’s not in death, but through it. New life is on the other side.”
“There are times when you should rest, but you should not try to find it through me.
Rest in God instead. Give Him your struggles for a while. Rest in other people if they are available.”
Know that the final rest will come eventually.
It’s not in death, but through it.
New life is on the other side.”
I’m surprised at what I’m hearing, “Why are you being so pro life? I expected you to seduce me to use you.”
Mr. Suicide explained, “I am in the image of the Ghost of Christmas Future because like it, I am a prophet and a signpost of things that can be changed. It is only your ego, your small self that makes me appear seductive. It is what longs for control. I represent your true Self — what you can become. If you must explore the unknown, examine the unknowns of your life. You will experience the unknown of death all too soon as it is.”
“I am in the image of the Ghost of Christmas Future because like it, I am a prophet and a signpost of things that can be changed.
…I represent your true Self — what you can become. If you must explore the unknown, examine the unknowns of your life. You will experience the unknown of death all too soon as it is.”
Somewhat in awe at this I reply, “Thank you for your advice. Perhaps we’ll talk again another time.”
Five days later we spoke again. Mr. Suicide was again a robed and hooded figure, a dark shadow instead of a face with only his hands showing. Once again we were in the darkened living room.
I began, “Mr. Suicide, I have another question to ask you.”
“Yeeesss?” the usual sibilant whisper.
“Please don’t whisper at me!” I demand crossly. “I need you to speak out loud again!”
He responds in a calm, normal voice, “Well, all right. What do you want to know?”
I’m indignant with his behavior, “I think that you’re a ham and that you enjoy high drama! But that’s not what I had in mind to talk about.”
Slouching in his armchair with one leg hooked over the armrest, an obvious overreaction to my comment about high drama, but still hamming it up, “Okay. Shoot.”
Still exasperated, I exclaim, “From one extreme to the other! Will you please just be real! You gave me good answers the last time we talked and a lot of positive advice. That’s what I want of you now, too. Will you help me?”
Mr. Suicide now sitting straight but relaxed in the chair, “Yes, of course I will. But you were being a bit heavy yourself, you know. Your mood needed to be lightened. Don’t you feel a bit lighter now?”
Smiling in response, “You’re right. I do feel better. I’ve been depressed about being depressed. I want to feel better all the time, or at least enough of the time that I can trust myself to complete the projects I start. You’re quite a character, you know. Despite your morbid name and your ominous appearance, you’re a pretty good person to talk to.”
Lightly and with a touch of humor, he replies, “Well, thanks for the compliment. What do you have on your mind?”
Turning serious I say, “I’ve been wondering about sleep. Is the way I use sleep a form of suicide?”
Mr. Suicide answers, “Yes and no. Sometimes it’s been a safe substitute for me. At other times, it’s been for the genuinely needed rest from the struggles that you spoke of last time we talked. It can also be a way of solving problems. You dream a lot and sometimes you find answers there. More often your dreams prod you with questions and indications of problems to work on while you are awake.”
I ask a related question, “Should I try not to sleep so much?”
Mr. Suicide answers, “Right now I wouldn’t worry about that. You’re fighting hard to grow, and you do need a lot of rest. But there should be a balance between rest and exercise. You’re not really getting enough of either. More exercise would improve the quality of your rest.”
It’s not the answer I want so I complain, “But it’s so hot I don’t feel like doing anything!”
Mr. Suicide doesn’t relent, “Try to get some exercise anyway. Go for a walk at sunset. It’s cooler then. I know how you hate to get up in the morning.”
I give in, “I don’t really want to, but I’ll try. Thanks.”
He responds with a casual, “Anytime.”
The formal, written conversations with Mr. Suicide ended here. But we still talk! Mr. Suicide has become one of my most trusted companions and inner guides.
Eventually I understood that Mr. Suicide was more about Self-Preservation than Death. However, I’d gotten so used to his name as ‘Mr. Suicide’ that I still address him that way.