Three suicides in the past six months. An acquaintance, a coworker, and a friend’s brother. We all have the same initial reaction of denial, that first step on the traditional path of mourning. Then, the questions start. How could they do this? What about their family? How did we not see that they needed help? And, the one repeated ad infinitum . . . why? After each of these recent incidents, I found myself in denial along with everyone else. But afterwards, I didn’t ask the question of why, because I had been there before. I know, to some extent, what they were thinking.
There comes a point where you reach blinding and absolute certainty that your life is meaningless and everyone else would be better off without you. It’s not a rational opinion, but one that has evolved over time, feeding on faulty logic and depression. You imagine the initial negative repercussions, but then visualize positive futures for your family and friends. You wear a mask of happiness and positivity. You keep everyone safe from any hint of the battle that wages on inside your head. As time passes, that battle fades to resignation, then planning.
I was in high school, a cheerleader with good grades and a relatively happy family. It was not a tearful, spur-of-the-moment response to breaking up with a boyfriend or a fight with my parents. The attempt on my life came after a small idea festered over time into what I perceived as the only answer. I sincerely believed that my life was meaningless. The prospects of adulthood, including having a family and/or career, did not hold any interest. I had every opportunity available, but didn’t want any of it.
Cryptic goodbyes to loved ones. Vodka and a bottle of pills. The letter explaining my decision. An extinguished candle. I peacefully closed my eyes, prepared to sleep forever.
Fortunately, my attempt was unsuccessful, but the idea resurfaced many times over the next ten years or so. In retrospect, it usually came to mind whenever some mildly upsetting event occurred. I was always looking for an excuse, some justification beyond general malaise and disenchantment with life.
I don’t want to complain about having it too easy. There are many others who battle with horrible things like abuse, addiction or poverty. However, I think that living a standardized existence may have been part of the problem. I was floating in a melancholic state with no goals and few challenges. Basic survival in mainstream America requires little ambition. Instead of fighting for each day, we’re encouraged to drift down a traditional path. I foresaw decades of work ahead of me, necessary in order to purchase all of those material goods deemed important by our consumerist culture. Advertising would always be introducing me to one more thing that I couldn’t afford. My days would be ruled by trivial obstacles, like picking up dry cleaning or making appointments. There would be some time for relaxation on the weekends, which would include mindless consumption of entertainment such as reality television. I would struggle to check off the daily to-do list in an obsessive quest to stay busy and achieve status and “success.” Envisioning year after year in such a contrived existence was enormously depressing. What would I be working to achieve? A break to finally relax during old age? No wonder I questioned the point of it all. I certainly can’t judge those who decided that the effort of living was too much to bear any longer.
The anagnorisis came when I finally accepted that there are other options. We can all design a thriving existence of personal significance. The future is exciting now, because I’m working towards attaining the freedom to experience my life as an adventure, instead of just passing away time until death. I will labor to pay off debt and stop wasting resources on pointless expenditures of time and money. My goal, and the reward for my efforts, will be the ability to fully experience life on my own terms. The same thoughts about death that were my fantasies for a long time are now terrifying. I’m scared of missing out on what lies ahead.
My advice to anyone struggling would be first, to seek help from any and all sources available to you. I was helped along the way by medication and therapy. Secondly, muster up the strength to give living a chance, for just a little bit longer. You have no idea how much things can change in a short amount of time. Finally, if you’ve reached that point where life no longer holds any meaning for you, consider the fact that you can write an entirely new story for yourself. I’m not trying to simplify the issue by advocating that early retirement is the answer to everyone’s problems. It simply allowed me to find hope down an alternate path. With some effort and a little bit of faith, you can create a future that inspires you to make the most out of every day that you have on this earth.