Saturday, February 29, 2020

A Depressing Tale of Empathy

There was no particular significance to that Tuesday. I had no other plans for the day, so it fit into the schedule. I hadn't told anyone about my plans, but I didn't on those other occasions, either. It all worked out okay those times. I know that one of these times it won't, but I still think selecting how and when we die has its advantages.

That Tuesday I chose to take an overdose of sleeping pills washed down with some whiskey. This time felt different than all those other times, though. In fact, I could point to the differences. 

All those other visions of hanging myself, blowing my brains out, and jumping off bridges were just things that seem to go through my mind. I find it hard to believe that everyone hasn't at some point thought about suicide. If they do, and they rid themselves of the thought, then we do it the same way. A few people have claimed to never have thought about it, but even denying the thoughts requires some level of contemplation about it, or so it would seem. 

Like I said, I mostly just get rid of the thoughts. Often. Really often.

I've learned to deal with it, for the most part. For example, if the thoughts get too intense by either occurring more often or for longer periods of time, I have to lie down. If I sleep, I cannot act. I don't think I have more control of my mind when I'm sleeping, but I cannot act which is the answer.


I have thought a lot about suicide, and I've thought about suicide for a long time. There is one essential key to surviving suicide. It is so simple that people who don't understand depression dismiss it as too obvious. The key to surviving thoughts of suicide is to not act upon the thoughts.

There may be underlying reasons that people have for the thoughts, but it really doesn't matter if the reason is a recent traumatic event or a chemical imbalance. Not everyone who acts upon thoughts of suicide succeeds, but everyone who succeeds has acted upon the thoughts.

It is said that Robin Williams acted because of depression. I get it. It is said that Ernest Hemingway acted because of pain. I get that, too. It is said that Alan Turing acted to avoid public humiliation. The point is that there are many reasons people may have for thoughts of suicide, but the common denominator for those who have taken their own lives is that they acted upon the thoughts.

Since there is no common denominator for the reasons for the thoughts, I can only explain how it progresses for me: 

  • I think about it and reject the thought
  • I can't reject the thought and I lie down
  • I can't reject the thought lying down so I sleep
  • I can't reject the thought after sleeping so I plan it

I imagine the next step after that would be to act. Is there another step between making a plan and acting upon a plan?

There are the thoughts of suicide that I reject and expel. As I said, I think about it often, but am also generally a happy and thoughtful person. I have created a shorted circuit, or an app, in my mind through which I expel those thoughts without a . . . I was going to say "without a thought," but . . .

Do I really expel the thought, or is my mind still recording it as an imagined experience? Does my app keep track of how many times I use it? I know the answer to both questions, and that is why that short circuit doesn't really work as intended.

It was thoughts of my children that kept me from acting the time I planned it and actually set out to execute the plan. That was decades ago. I couldn't imagine a scenario they could be in that my advice to them would be to kill themselves. 


Then I thought about the twenty-some years of taking Mom to the cemetery on the anniversaries of my little brother's birth and death. I thought about her ambling slowly and painfully to his grave. She would kneel down and clean the grass away that was overgrowing the edges of his headstone. She would try to be strong and just do the things a mother can do for her dead child. She always shed tears, and I would shed tears watching her agonize over something life threw at her. 

I couldn't imagine doing that to her again, especially since I alone controlled whether or not I acted. I was only about ten minutes away from my destination. I pulled over into a parking lot and cried for about half-an-hour. Despite being only ten minutes away from never again having an agonizing thought about suicide, there simply were more reasons to live than to kill myself.

I turned toward home, talked to Dad about my thoughts and issues, and moved on. That time I almost killed myself was fading more deeply into my past.

I've had to sleep off thoughts of suicide many times in the decades since. Those times had been coming more frequently. They were getting darker and deeper. 

Well meaning friends have said in general that they are available to talk about suicide, but many of them don't understand depression. They give advice that essentially amounts to this: if I didn't understand it the same way they don't understand it, then I would see how well not thinking about suicide works for them. 

It would be humorous, except it isn't funny so much as valueless, and perhaps even damaging.

There are the friends who try to cheerlead me out of depression if I try to talk about it with them. They tell me about fond memories and things we did in the past. They tell me that they miss the days when we would take ten minutes and talk about something. We say we need to do that again, even if we don't do it as frequently.

However, even if we do connect up a bit more after that, it isn't the same as it once was. It is still fun and enjoyable, but the kids are the adults and the adults are the old people. Heck, it's getting to the point that the people who once were the kids are the old people, and I am whatever comes after being old. I suppose, that would be in the generation that is expected to die next, but that's such a depressing thought.

It's okay to laugh. In fact, it's good to laugh. Laughing can mask a lot of pain. I prove to a lot of people that I'm not depressed by laughing.

Dad gave me the best advice on dealing with it: don't get too excited about the good times, and don't get too down about the bad times. He suggested that I find the balance, and just try staying in an acceptable range of fluctuation. I don't know exactly how he said it, but I likened it to a dead man's float in a sea of depression. 


That works best for me. I suppose floating on one's back might work better for others. Whether one feels better floating face down or face up, the key is to float. Flailing and bobbing just don't work as well in the metaphor of the sea.

Oh, I wish I could talk to Dad. Some people say I will be able to one day, but we certainly don't want to talk about when that day will be when it is counter-productive to the purpose. Doesn't that seem just a bit like telling someone on the ledge that the best way off is by jumping?

It didn't matter any longer. I had it all planned for that Tuesday. If there is a better day to die than on a Tuesday, so be it. That was the day I chose.

Things had changed so much from that other day I planned it and began executing the plan. Dad is gone, and Mom is nearing the end. We all know it. Even she knows it. We can't talk about it, though, because, you know, death is such a depressing topic. If there is ever to be any talking to Dad, it will be through my death. It wouldn't inconvenience Mom for long, if at all.

But how about my children? They don't need me for the same reasons as before. I needed to raise them the first time. They are raised. Do I owe it to them to live long enough to die a slow and painful death like Dad? For six agonizing weeks we all pulled together to fulfill his final wish to die at home. 

Not only do I not want my children to have to go through the struggle it was for my father to die a lingering death, I'm not particularly enamored with thoughts of the painful part that he had to go through for us to have to go through the struggling part. 

As for Mom, I don't really know if she is going to live to be 84 years and nine months or 86 years and one month, but she is a day or two away from 84 years and nine months old. She is tiring. Her body is giving out. Does she owe it to us to go through agony to live for an extra month or year, or does she owe it to us to not put us through the struggle? 

I don't even want to ponder a question that requires me to examine my ethical boundaries that deeply. 

I knew I should just lie down, but, quite honestly, I knew that particular Tuesday that the answer to the question I asked about my children the first time seemed to be answered: the scenario I could imagine them being in that I would recommend killing themselves was the situation I was in.

They say it was depression for Williams, pain for Hemingway, and public humiliation for Turing. I see mine more on the order of the same reason as van Gogh than for any of the other famous people who have ended their own lives. Vincent's suicide was supposedly for reasons that all three of the others had. Add to it Hunter Thompson's addiction issues, and even the intrigue of possibility that it wasn't suicide, like Cobain. He just didn't fit into the world, and he didn't want to be a burden to anyone. Without a purpose, what is the use?


Even if these people had not taken their own lives, they would fall into one of two categories: dead like Dad or soon-to-be-dead like Mom. It could be on a Saturday or a Thursday. It was a Wednesday for Dad. It would be a Tuesday for me.

It was planned. The method was set. The time was set. Everything was a go. I wouldn't suffer much pain, and I wouldn't be a burden to my children. The time was nearing.

Then the phone rang. It was my daughter. She asked me what I was doing. I told her I wasn't doing anything important. She told me that she was so frustrated that she was going to pull her hair out. I told her nothing warranted action that drastic.

She told me that the babysitting she had arranged for her work week that began the next day fell through. She was wondering if I would be available to help her, but, she said, she really needed some time right then so she could go get her nails done. She told me that she could get by without it if I had anything more important to do.


I told her that I wasn't doing anything more important than hanging out with my grandkids so she could get some personal time in.

She told me that sometimes she feels like she would die without me, and asked me if I was sure that she wasn't interrupting something more important. I told her of course I wasn't doing anything more important, and that I see her as a guardian angel.

She chuckled and said, "Yeah, sure. Thanks Dad."

I might still die on a Tuesday, but it wasn't that particular Tuesday.

* * * * *

You might also enjoy:

Surviving in a Sea of Depression
Is Not Caring Anymore a Mental Health Issue?
Firing My Shrink
Welcome to My Nightmare
Remembering Dad: His Newsletter Obituary
Playing With Gemma
Blowing Bubbles
The Fishing Trip (A Final Version): Dedicated to Chas Henderson

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