The strangest thing about me is that I am suicidal at most times. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t contemplate suicide. It’s almost like a schizophrenic voice that whispers suicide. It sits in the back of my mind and reminds me of how the most mundane and banal actions could be fatal. Am I waiting for a subway train? Jump in front of the train when it comes into the station. Am I out for a walk? Walk towards a bridge and jump off of it. Am I having trouble getting to sleep? Drink a lot of alcohol and take a handful of my sleeping medications. Sometimes that voice hibernates and won’t bother me for hours or even days but most of the time, it’s there.
This is what living with suicide is like.
The ironic thing is that I’m afraid of dying. I have contemplated death in a myriad of ways, not just concerning death as a verb, but what it is, means, does, is like, what happens afterwards, and how it feels. It’s only the last contemplation, how it feels, which truly frightens me.
I’m not a superstitious person. In fact, I tend to disparage superstition and I would categorize blind faith as a superstition. I cannot not nor will not believe in Heaven and Hell. I cannot nor will not throw to the wayside all of the scientific advances made during human history, especially since the time of Galileo. But discrediting any belief in Heaven and Hell is not some sort of rationalization I am seeking in order to justify suicide. On the contrary, I know my body will decompose and return to the earth and in few billion years the elements and atoms which constituted my body will return to a star, our sun. The energy which is my soul, self, atman, etc. will go on as well. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed and that is scientific law. The Buddhist in me wants to believe (using general faith and not blind faith) that my soul will enter a new body once I die in this one but my opposition towards superstition stymies my complete embrace of transmigration; however, transmigration makes more sense to me than Heaven and Hell due to the conservation of energy, hence not a total disregard for the superstition of transmigration. These are the contemplations I ruminate on that have helped displace any fear of death and what happens afterwards.
The pain of death and dying is the contemplation I fear the most and is part of the reason I am still alive (it can go without saying family, friends, and different types of therapy and medications constitute other parts of my being alive). No matter what way I contemplate suicide, there is always a pain involved. This is my greatest blessing as well as my greatest curse. It is at this thought, the thought of feeling pain while dying, which has kept my suicide at bay but it also means I am almost always living on the precipice of suicide for a majority of my life.
I was formally diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 1993, when I was thirteen. My mother recently disclosed to me that doctors had seen signs of depression in me as young as the age of four. That would have been in 1984. It’s now 2016 and I’m 36 years old and I still suffer from it. I also suffer from issues with anxiety, paranoia, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Dealing with all of those diagnoses is extremely tiring. It is when that exhaustion gets to an incredibly high level that my suicidal thoughts then become suicidal plans. But, again, it’s not because I want to die per se, it’s because my brain is broken and it’s exhausting fighting my own brain. I’ve often tried to convey this feeling like so: If there’s something in a person’s body that doesn’t work properly or is harming the body as a whole (think appendix, cancer, etc.) then doctors remove it; however, my problem, the thing that isn’t working correctly and is harming my body, is my brain and if it’s removed, I die. And that is what all of this boils down to.
When I was 13, I attempted suicide twice. When I was 14, I attempted it again. When I was 26, I was suicidal as well as when I was 34, 35, and 36. I go through severe depressive episodes and some of them are so terrible that suicide becomes a real option so I can alleviate the exhaustion of fighting my own brain every day. The last of these episodes occurred in late July of 2016 but it was different from previous depressive episodes. During that last episode, suicide became as real to me as it did when I was 13 and 14. The difference between this episode and those two older episodes was that I, at the urging of my sister, checked myself into the hospital.
I spent 18 days in the psychiatric unit of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and during my stay, I was given ample time to contemplate and reflect. I was on suicide watch (called one-to-one in the hospital) and all I did was look for ways to attempt my goal of suicide. But as time wore on and therapy commenced and medications were administered, my suicidal thoughts and plans came to the forefront and I became hyper-aware of their existence and how damaging they are and how they dictated my life. It was during my last week or so of being in the hospital that my constant suicidal voice ceased.
It is such a relief to no longer be subjected to the constant barrage of suicidal thoughts. It is a peace I’m not sure I have ever known but I feel it is a fragile peace. I am under no illusions thinking I am cured of my mental health issues. I think about succumbing to another depressive episode. I constantly tell people I am doing well, I am doing better, but I am still ill. I am still depressed. More importantly, I tell myself these same words. But even in illness there is life to live and that thought has been the most significant shift in my outlook. I know I am susceptible to depressive episodes and suicidal thoughts but I no longer want to go through the days surviving them. What I want is to live, even if I have to live with them. The shift in verb usage from surviving to living has made all the difference in my life.
If you or a loved one is suicidal, get help.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
or go to your nearest Emergency Room or call 911
-Matthew A. Sandusky