Seeing the World Through a Grey Veil: A Conversation on Suicide
This post is about suicide. Perhaps you are as uncomfortable reading about it as I am writing about it. I can’t help but think that I have been in a wrestling match with my life on the line for as long as I can remember, and that one day I am simply going to stop fighting back.
I had one of those really bad wrestling matches two months ago. Seriously, I am not comfortable with this topic.
Then there is a good friend I lost to suicide. I could go on and on, but as I said, I am seriously not comfortable writing about it.
But then three things turned up on my various news feeds last week. Now I have no choice but to write. The first was a piece by NY Times columnist David Brooks, titled The Irony of Despair. Don’t let the title fool you. Writers are very skilled in dressing up their ignorance and arrogance as philosophical insight and Brooks is no exception. After citing the usual statistics and paying lip service to some authors, Brooks characterized suicide as "chronological arrogance." He went on to write:
A person enters the situation amid feelings of powerlessness and despair, but once in the situation the potential suicide has the power to make a series of big points before the world. By deciding to live, a person in a suicidal situation can prove that life isn’t just about racking up pleasure points.
One reader responded:
To say that suicide is an act of "chronological arrogance" tells me that you don’t understand first hand what the feelings are which bring about this state of mind.
Unless you have gone through a dark night of the soul that goes on and on for a month, you have no right to belittle the impulse to commit suicide by minting clever little insults such as “chronological arrogance.”
A day or two later, I clicked on the latest TED Talk. Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, spoke on Depression: The Secret We Share. Unlike David Brooks, Solomon actually knows what he is talking about. He has been there. He has been to the edge and looked down.
"I felt a funeral in my brain," he quoted from Emily Dickinson. Later, he says:
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.
He goes on to say:
You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a grey veil and are seeing the world through a haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness, and now you are seeing truly.
The day after Andrew’s TED Talk went online, Ned Vizzini, author of "It’s Kind of Funny Story," took his life. In his books, aimed at teens, Ned openly talked about his struggles with depression and anxiety. He was 32. He leaves behind a wife and son.
In a interview on Strength of Us, Ned commented:
Reading helps me overcome negative and suicidal thoughts. Besides The Art of Happiness, I have found a lot of strength in Andrew Solomon’s book, The Noonday Demon.
I only wish he had seen Andrew’s talk, just the day before. How dare David Brooks use the term, "chronological arrogance."
John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.