Harvard researcher Matthew Nock has interviewed hundreds of people who attempted suicide. He told a New York Times reporter that although he has never been suicidal, he “knows what it is like to be in intense pain and have an urgent need for it to stop.” But his research has also revealed that “in most cases, feeling suicidal—for whatever reason—is a state that comes and goes.” So in order to develop effective interventions, he keeps asking people who’ve attempted suicide why they did it.
While their responses vary, Nock says that they tend to share one significant detail: “Virtually all of them say, ‘I’m glad I didn’t die.’”
Camus said that suicide represents the one truly serious philosophical problem, since the fundamental question of philosophy is whether life is worth living. If you’re really considering suicide, you might suspect that your life’s value doesn’t tip the balance enough to hang onto it. In confronting that bedrock issue, you’ve become a kind of philosopher, even if you’re so intellectually sapped right now that you’d prefer Play-Doh to Aristotle.
But achtung, baby: While depression makes you tear yourself down in a zillion ways and grossly undervalue your importance to others and your contributions to the world, it also makes you overestimate the soundness and authority of your darkest, most bummed-out thoughts.
Your rationales for buying that farm might seem quite profound and incontrovertible. But depressive thinking is usually based on horseshit and applesauce. As objectively nasty as circumstances might be for you at the moment, multitudes (including yours truly) have struggled through similar midnight swamps and thorny-ass cactus patches to rediscover peace.
Face it: Your brain trust right now is a clutch of hatchet-faced blue devils dogging it through your neural pathways, swinging medieval flails that slice your axons and dendrites and rationality to ribbons. These dybbuks go to work siphoning out the serotonin and dopamine and norepinephrine that fuel your incentives to live. The damage is NOT irreparable, but while it’s happening, please don’t bank on your capacity to reason. Not a great time to make irreversible decisions.
What you need is protection from these mood marauders—something like a safe room. That’s a fortified space in a house that provides shelter and protects swag if there’s a home invasion, a tornado, or another sort of threat. When the depression diablos come tearing through, it pays to have a sanctuary like this. You can cultivate a part of your mind that will function like a psycho-spiritual safe room. You pile up your protective thoughts and strategies there—gratitude for the good things in your life, skepticism about negative thoughts, etc. The greatest safe-room asset may be your dispassionate awareness that this depression is a transient attack. It’ll pass.
There’s a part of you who can sit and observe the riotous black-hats and low-rent revenants through your safe room’s two-way mirror. Let them whack their nightmarish way around your crib. They’re mugging and grumbling and ugly as homemade sin. They mutter, You’re no good. They cry, Life sucks. They wail, It won’t get better. They whisper, Death will end your suffering.
Don’t take the bait. They’re just thoughts. They’re just nothing—haunted-house holographs that vaporize under scrutiny. Sit there and observe rather than being swept up in their jackleg games.
Sometimes these doomsayers aren’t ugly or unrefined. Sometimes they’re all egghead urbanity and bow-tie charm. They can seem credible, even oracular. They’ll pose as true-blue assessors of the human condition, tell you that it’s wise and compassionate to string yourself up or shoot yourself down because after all, darlin’, there’s no hope for you this side of the River Styx.
I can’t say it enough: They’re wrong. And when the stakes are this high, they’re not just a little wrong. Their kind of wrong reaches from the moons of Jupiter to the shit-cans of Sheol. Whatever guise they mug with or heat they put on, you just sit there behind the shatterproof glass in the Kevlar wall watching, cool as the spring air venting in from the roof, friends on speed dial when you need them.
These drag-ass phantoms and white-shoe killjoys are NOT YOU. Through practice you’ll get to a point where you can sit there and calmly call bullshit as they threaten or cajole, trying to get you to come out and join them in the sabotage. When you’re considering suicide to escape them, remember that it’s really THEM pitching this graveyard counsel, and THEY can’t be trusted. There are much better ways to skip this town.
There’s a part of you—maybe the biggest part—that’s hurting and hopeless right now, beaten down by these spirit crashers. I’ve been there, I get it.
But there’s another part of you already inside the safe room, perfectly protected. Enter the code and swing that big door open. Deny entry to those deputies of doom, but invite that wounded part of you in. Sit this footsore soldier down and brew some tea. Brace up this aching pilgrim as you would your greatest friend. There’s peace and security and rich oxygen in here. There’s a sturdy oak table with a lantern and a map.
There’s no hurry. But when you’re ready, you can begin to chart your (living, breathing) course out of Dodge.