Suicide: The One Topic I Rarely Write About
I tend to write about what I can laugh at. Of all things, I have learned to laugh at depression. It’s complicated. Cultivating a sense of humor was my key to getting through a challenging childhood. Finding comic absurdities in the midst of overwhelming despair somehow lifted me above the crushing pain.
“One day I’ll laugh it this,” I managed to say to the clinician who first treated me for depression. See? I was already on my way. This was 15 years ago. Very soon after, I began writing about depression and bipolar. Those years have been the most rewarding of my life.
Suicide is a different matter. Here, I do not have the power to laugh, and writing about it is extremely difficult. So much so that I rarely broach the topic. Maybe it has to do with the fact that each day I wake up, I wonder why I’m not already dead.
I am definitely not laughing when I’m thinking about that. Depression is one thing. Actually contemplating taking my own life or wishing I was dead is another. And this sort of thing occurs far too often for comfort.
My reason for approaching the topic in this piece has to do with a thoughtful blog post on Everyday Health by my good friend Therese Borchard. Therese, too, has a way of finding humor in the dark side. But she also has a way of giving expression to our most terrifying impulses. Witness:
It was an especially black moment. I felt as though I was trapped in between a brick wall and a pane of glass, like a jail cell that kept on shrinking, suffocating me as the space grew more confining. I wanted so badly out of life that I would have done just about anything to get there. Despite my Catholic faith and my strong religious beliefs, if a physician would have offered me some barbiturates to flatten my pulse, I don’t think I would have hesitated to reach for them in desperation.
Therese’s piece discusses physician-assisted suicide. She mentions an article in the New Yorker that describes a psychiatric patient who was legally euthanized in Belgium.
The “death with dignity” debate tends to be framed in terms of debilitating or terminal physical conditions. Make no mistake, I believe in the right to choose my own death, on my own terms. But the operative word, here, is “choose.”
When I am in the throes of a severe depression or intense psychic pain, my brain has lost the capacity to make a rational choice. Doing the unthinkable, in short, becomes thinkable, and with no apparent downside.
Heaven help if physician-assisted suicide were as easy as booking a cruise. I, for one, would not be here writing this right now. Final word goes to Therese:
Thank God there wasn’t a doctor available who could have helped me end it when I could not see past the black night.
John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.