(Disclaimer – this post includes stories of suicide and could be considered sensitive content)
Saw a great movie about a month ago. The End of The Tour, with Jason Segal & Jesse Eisenberg, is about an interview that David Lipsky of Rolling Stone recorded with David Foster Wallace – Harvard grad and author of Infinite Jest who battled depression and took his own life in 2008 at 46 years old.
His explanation of how one sees suicide as a viable choice was beautiful.
“When somebody leaps from a burning skyscraper, it’s not that they are not afraid of falling anymore, it’s that the alternative is so awful. And so then you are invited to consider what can be so awful that leaping to your death would seem like an escape from it…a spiritual crisis. Feeling as though every action in your life turned out to be false and there was actually nothing, and you were nothing. And it’s all a delusion and you are so much better than everybody because you can see it’s all a delusion. And you are so much worse because you can’t function. It’s really horrible.”
This paragraph of monologue is so poignant. Personally, in my own experience, these thoughts on suicide are perfectly described. As a teenager, I went through a challenging time to understand my validity and personal self worth. The following is an account of my own struggles. (These are struggles I own and do not blame on anyone else’s behavior or treatment toward me. I also know this content may be a surprise to many close to me. Please know that you have all been a reason I am still here.)
School was so difficult, I used to make excuses for being sick. I created fake vomit for the toilet from kool-aid, milk and chunks of bread so my mom would believe I was throwing up. She left me in the living room with a thermometer and I would put the tip on a nearby lightbulb to escalate the temperature – anything to get out of another day.
Around me, in an all boy Catholic college prep high school, I was confronted with obstacles hourly. When testosterone and high school politics mix in an unchecked environment, there is often collateral damage. Everyone used the word “faggot” or “gay.” These weren’t specific attacks on any perceived sexuality mostly – just generalized provocations designed to cut deep as a passing insult. To me, however, I felt found out. I believed soon enough that I would be exposed and my family would put me on the street.
A rational person wouldn’t believe that. No one who knew my family would think that. In my mind, however, I felt like a burden. I thought about this all the time. I knew that they would be better off without me. I had a twin, so, I figured they wouldn’t miss me. In fact, I even contemplated the idea that God had made a mistake with me and got it right with my brother.
I made plans and designed ideas about how I would do it. Then, one day, it came time. I didn’t care what a bottle of pills would do to me. Whatever happened, it was far better than the alternative.
Somewhere near my 15 birthday, I went into the medicine cabinet in the kitchen, grabbed the first bottle I found and ran upstairs with a pepsi in the other hand. I quickly entered my bedroom at the top of the stairs and closed the door. My desk was next to my bed. I remember pouring the pills onto the desk top and looking at the pile of ibuprofen. I counted them. I grouped the 30 pills into piles of 5 and then swallowed each pile with a gulp of pepsi. After the desk was empty, and the bottle now in the trash, I laid down and oddly felt happy. It was as if I finally followed through with something really important to me. I thought this would somehow solve a lot of problems for my family. I went to sleep – fully intending to not wake up.
Instead, I woke to the familiar sounds of my siblings stirring and my mom, knocking on my door, “Dan get up! Time for school.” I thought I was dreaming or I was a ghost or something else. I couldn’t believe I was still there. Not only was I not dead, but I felt great. I wasn’t even sick.
I became consumed with the idea of a different attempt.
As a junior in high school, the most difficult academic year, and one that includes a lot of pressure to plan the rest of your life, I remember waking up in the kitchen. It wasn’t the first time I sleepwalked – it was one of the rarer side effects of my asthma meds. I looked at my right wrist, where my left hand was stabbing a steak knife deep enough to draw blood.
As I type this, almost 20 years later, I still see the scar.
Calmly and quietly (to not wake my family), I rinsed the knife and my arm. My whole body was shivering. I wasn’t cold. Looking back, I identify it as shock. Two divergent emotions at once – numb and alive. After getting back into bed, I decided that must have been saved for something. I started thinking about my future.
(side note: Ten years after that incident, I read a report that linked asthma and some asthma drugs with an increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts.)
I guess why I am writing this now because I have not been afraid of these feelings for a long time. I feel related to that scared teenager, but he does’t represent who I am today. That experience may be why I am such an optimistic person now. Every day is a gift.
I have a phenomenal network of friends and family. I am grateful for a robust and beautiful life.
When you read about suicide in the paper or hear about someone who is challenged with these thoughts, do not write them off. It is easy from the outside looking in to assign blame and judgement. You don’t need to, however. From the inside looking out, that kid has placed more blame and judgement on himself than anyone can imagine or understand. Suicide, on its face, seems selfish – “the easy way out.” In fact, it is often rationalized as an act of love and altruism – a sacrifice in order for the ones he loved to go on without his burdensome life.