How I Didn’t Kill Myself

All right, let’s get one thing straight from the very beginning. If you know me, or if you’re particularly fussy about death, you may want to think twice before reading on. The style of this post is meant to be as morbidly playful as the rest of these gruesome recollections, yet it is exactly about what the title suggests. I considered killing myself, fair and square. The fact that I didn’t do it slightly diminishes the gravity of such a fact, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if some people found this read rather disturbing all the same.

Still here? Good. Let’s dig into it. The last post dealt with the fear of loosing my son after a police officer threatened to take him away. The reason was what the guy called child abuse (while I foolishly thought I was merely showing my kid ducks and swans off a bridge). The fact that my fear was hardly justified meant nothing to me. I was scared shitless no matter how rational and cool I tried to be about the whole thing in between fits of paranoia and anxiety.

I can’t tell if those more or less irrational worries were the sole trigger of the most extreme bout of my madness that followed in due course, but they sure didn’t help. First were those visions of my drowning son in the aftermath of the bridge incident. More waking nightmares like that followed as if some sort of morbid mental fireworks got set off in my head. Completely harmless situations were suddenly prone to take wildly improbable catastrophic turns in my mind. And following the custom of these series, I’ll give you a couple of examples so that you have a general idea of the place to which my madness dragged me this time.

The first blow I want to talk about hit me during family trip to a seaside village south of where we live. It was one of those rare summer days when the sky stays clear for hours on end and the Atlantic coast of Ireland looks almost too beautiful to be real. We set off for the trip way before tourist buses and rental cars would clog the narrow road winding by the shore. The drive felt like surfing a huge empty wave of limestone hills, a wave crested with green hedges and dry stone walls, all of that spilling into the flat blue ocean proper on my right.

My wife dozed off but our son must have been enjoying the day as much as I did. He kept looking out of the window in the back of the car, giggling in between bursts of mix-and-match nursery rhyme stanzas. I smiled, thinking the day was just perfect. And then something changed.

The shadows of utility poles lining the road seemed to have grown darker and strangely sinister. They looked like long black fingers of some skeletal creature raking the green pastures behind the stone walls. The mellow engine rumble and our tires swooshing over the warm tarmac became muffled, and the excited gurgling of my son was gone completely.

The happiness I’d nearly felt just a moment ago turned to breathless dread. My hands on the steering wheel got slick with cold sweat. I could still drive all right but I was sure we were going to die in a terrible accident should I keep going.

The more I thought about the coming doom, the more real it seemed. Sounds of tortured metal overwhelmed me. The forces of abrupt deceleration were tearing me apart. I felt pieces of shattered windscreen lashing my face raw and bloody. And then there was silence, with me perfectly conscious but unable to move a finger.

My eyes strained to turn in their sockets. Through a thin curtain of blood trickling down my forehead, I saw my wife crumpled in the passenger seat. She still looked as if she were sleeping, only she was ghostly pale this time. Her blonde hair was a mess, the head all askew on her broken neck.

That was bad enough but it soon got worse. Heartbreaking mewling broke through the dead silence. It was our son, calling us from the back. I tried to move and help him somehow, but I was still as good as petrified.

Over the past few years, I’d learned to love that cheerful and curious voice of our baby in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined before. And all I could do now was to listen to that voice, getting thinner with every gush of something hot that spattered the back of my head.

I knew what those gushes were way before I could pick up the salty-sweet smell over the leaking diesel fumes. It was blood, of course. My dying son’s blood.

The vision probably lasted only a second. We didn’t crash. There was nothing on the road that could conceivably cause the accident I was imagining, and my driving was perfectly fine, running on some sort of autopilot when my consciousness took that momentary plunge. But for the rest of the day, I kept driving as if we had a bootload of fiery phoenix eggs about to hatch in the back of the car. And I somehow avoided the wheel altogether for a good long while after that otherwise perfectly normal and rather enjoyable family trip.

One of the other juicier attacks went like this. I was chopping half a cucumber and a few tomatoes for a salad while talking to the family on a lazy Sunday morning. Amidst a completely harmless sentence, a wave of vertigo numbed all my senses. I could see my son, waddling towards me to have a closer look at what I was doing. That bit was real, much unlike the next things I saw in the fog that had flooded my mind.

I was sure that something terrible would happen if the boy came all the way to me. I could quite vividly picture my serrated knife somehow slipping on the cutting board and sinking into one of the greenish blue eyes of my baby son. And that was only the beginning. The scene continued with me, mad with grief, lunging at my wife and stabbing her in the heart to save her from the tragedy of a child killed by her own man. The only sensible thing to do after that was to slash my wrists and hug my dying family in one last embrace, our mixed blood pooling on the white stone tiles.

None of those horrors actually happened but the brief vision was so real that I was shocked witless for a couple of seconds before I resurfaced in our perfectly normal sunlit kitchen, full of the playful voices of my wife and son. I dropped the knife to the sink and took the baby in my arms to safely strap him into his high chair. Only then I could proceed with preparing the salad, my hands still shaking. And I took really good care to make sure no one was around next time I was handling something that could possibly cause any harm. Which meant pretty much anything when that incessant mental fireworks in my head was of a particularly gloomy shade.

There were more, many more such visions. But I hope that deathly roadside still and kitchen gore galore have been sufficiently illustrative for you to get the overall picture. It sure is enough for me to bear at this moment, even from my current, more or less sane perspective.

I assume it’s quite understandable that the visions wreaked havoc on my mind that hadn’t been in the best shape to begin with. The stuff I was thinking of could perhaps be approximated by the following chat:

  • Me: `Now, I don’t think this can get any worse.’
  • Me again: `Of course it can.’
  • Me: `Really? How?’
  • Me again: `Well, those things we keep imagining could actually happen. That’d would be far worse in my book.’
  • Me: `Damn, you’re right. What are we gonna do then?’
  • Me again: `Well, I wouldn’t stress about it overmuch. We’ve already established that we’re pretty badly depressed after all. Maybe it’s just that.’
  • Me: `Just that? You mean like it’s okay?’
  • Me again: `No. It’s crap. I feel just the way you do, which means worse than ever. But that doesn’t mean those crazy things can really happen. They’re just in our head.’
  • Me: `Yeah. For now.’
  • Me again: `What do you mean?’
  • Me: `Dunno. Perhaps it’s not only depression this time. Maybe we’re really getting crazy. What if we could somehow make those things happen?’
  • Me again, after long silence: `Shit.’
  • Me: `See?’
  • Me again: `So what are we gonna do?’
  • Me: `Well, there might be a way…’
  • Me again, after another break: `I’m listening.’
  • Me: `The best would be to get less mad.’
  • Me again: `Good joke. We’ve been trying for months now, and it’s not like it’s getting any better.’
  • Me: `You’re right, of course. There is the next best solution, though. A pretty simple one.’
  • Me again, smiling grimly: `Oh, I see. You mean that thing we discussed some time ago, don’t you?’
  • Me: `Exactly.’
  • Me again: `That might work. No one gets hurt more than they already are when we’re dead for real.’
  • Me: `I couldn’t agree more.’
  • Me again: `Okay then. How are we gonna go about it?’
  • Me: `Let me see…’

We’ll leave it at that. I should have talked to someone the moment these thoughts appeared, but I didn’t. The new project made me too preoccupied to bother about anything else. The perspective of something that would put an end to my madness was scary but thrilling all the same. I don’t suppose there are many worse things to think about, but planning a proper and considerate way of killing myself somehow made me feel better. I know it’s horrible, but the definitivenes felt reassuring. Moreover, the fact that I had something to keep my brain busy all the time tremendously improved my mood, ridiculous as it sounds.

To be completely honest, it wasn’t the first time I considered killing myself. The first serious suicide contemplation came when I thought I was dying of cancer. I didn’t want my family to suffer through the tedious journey towards the inevitable demise of my ravaged shade. Luckily I was sane enough back then to postpone the suicide until after the actual terminal diagnosis (that never came). Seeing my family dying hundred times pushed me over the edge further than before, though. For about a week, I spent most of my time plotting dozens of possible suicide scenarios to pick from.

You wonder what were my choices? I saw myself cutting my wrists in one of those visions so it was one of the first options to consider. Only it felt too messy. I hear it gets better in a hot bathtub, but the possible lasting impact of such a scene on my deserted family was too much of a risk to allow. So I ruled out the melodrama of wrist-slashing pretty quick.

Next were the pills I think. Judging by various suicide statistics, they might work all right for many people. Too bad my research in predicting adverse drug effects had taught me how awfully unreliable such chemical cocktails can be. And thus I discarded that method, too.

Looking for more alternatives, I briefly thought about driving real fast into something solid before changing my mind again. That way I would have robbed my family of quite some money they could get for selling the car. Not cool. So on I went, coming up with increasingly ingenious approaches to killing myself.

What I eventually found most considerate and kind of sorrowfully beautiful was to wait for a windless, foggy day and jump off the tallest cliff I could find around. I don’t live very far from this natural wonder. It’s 200+ meters of sheer vertical rock. And at the foot of it, there is a reef full of boulders that are being smashed to pebbles by the relentless Atlantic swells. That seemed like it could do the trick. The outcome of such a jump would be near certain death in the wild ocean I’d always loved, and falling towards that fate through eerie silence of dense haze felt rather comforting the way I imagined it. What’s more, the ocean is pretty efficient in dealing with dead things in it. If I managed to sneak away secretly enough, chances were no one would ever need to bother about my corpse. I’d just disappear and let my family start a new life without the burden of me (but with proper instructions on how to utilise the possessions I’d have left behind, of course). Bloody dreadful thinking, I know, but remember, I was scraping the rock bottom of my madness at this stage, so hopefully you can understand.

Looking back, I think it’s awfully amazing how one can appear to function in a more or less normal way even in such a sick state of mind. I remember joking with my team over our regular Friday pizza lunch while I was composing a moving farewell note for them. I could kiss my son good night with a warm smile on my face, calmly thinking this might well have been the last time if I decided to go tonight. And when my wife brought up the topic of having another child one evening, I engaged in a genuinely positive discussion about our future. Only in the background, I was soberly reviewing my pension policy and thinking whether they’d be fine without me if having the baby would have worked out before I’d be gone.

This leads me to the most important direct lesson one can perhaps take from this post. If you suspect someone going through something similar to my madness, be extra alert when they become weirdly cheerful, calm or simply different all of a sudden. No, wait. Forget about being alert. Depressed people can be masters of emotional disguise, just like I used to be. The best thing is to drag them to an appropriate professional right away before the worst comes to the worst. The science of suicidality predictors is far from clear, but my personal experience doesn’t seem to be all that unique in this respect. So there might be some relatively telling signs to watch for. And getting help soon enough may be crucial. Not every depression sufferer gets as lucky as I was while going through all that crap on my stubborn own.

The conclusion of all this is just what the title says. In the end, I didn’t kill myself. I’m still not entirely sure what saved me, but I have some guesses. I already said I became strangely calm during those days of thinking about the specific means for disposing the world of my hopeless self. In fact, I got sober enough that I eventually had a little extra bandwidth for breaks in between all those suicidal reveries. And at such bright moments, I was getting back to the problem that made me want to kill myself in the first place. Only this time I managed to look at it from a completely different perspective.

I remembered about the half-ass evolutionary theory of depression which I coined before. What if the visions my brain kept throwing at me were just a new trick of my madness? The beast apparently couldn’t crack me by making me think I was dying. Showing me the deaths of my family might have been the next best approach. A much more powerful one than anything before, as it turned out. And that paranoid idea of me getting genuinely mad and killing all I loved gnawed at me pretty hard, too. All that could simply have been a shining new double-edged sword the depression forged for itself after my struggling reason had blunted the previous weapons.

Another hypothesis that seemed plausible to me was that maybe those terrible visions were a desperate attempt of my brain to make my perceived reality consistent with my deep blue mood. When there was no objective reason for me feeling so low, my subconscious might have simply decided to manufacture those vivid catastrophic scenarios. They were as good as real catastrophes the way I felt about them. What if that was somehow meant to comfort my tortured brain in a brutal twist? The thing is that human minds like cognitive consistency and try to maintain it at often absurd costs, so this explanation may not be that far-fetched after all.

Whatever the cause, I may never learn what did actually make my imagination so unhinged. But mere thinking about my illness from such a purely analytical perspective was the turning point. I didn’t completely rule out suicide as a possible solution to my afflictions, but I started to be as objectively inquisitive about it as I could. Which turns out to be a pretty reasonable strategy for living a happy life in general (if one has the guts and will to do it right, that is).

The reconsideration of the problem of my sick self went as follows. What if suicide was just a pretty bad local optimum with which I got stuck due to the nature of my disease? What if there were much better ways of getting out of the mess I was steeped in? The fact that I couldn’t see those ways through the momentary gloom didn’t necessarily mean there were none in existence. And ignoring such a possibility would be pretty stupid in general, and a bad science to boot.

That was it. I still felt extremely bad, but I forced myself to believe that it would be a mortal (alas!) sin to prevent myself from seeking the truly optimal solution by rendering myself dead. Last but not least, I also thought again about the impact of that quite possibly lame and most certainly irreversible suicide solution on my family and friends. I’ve never been very good with emotions and stuff, I told myself, so I’d better take all my conclusions along those lines with a hefty rock of salt. Maybe the situation was not as clear as I had originally imagined? What if I was terribly biased with my analysis of the combined long-term utility value of all possible alternatives for everyone around me? If that was the case, indeed, it could only mean one thing. Perhaps me and mine would actually be better off with me staying no matter what?

There was no way of finding answers to those curious questions other than keep living. And so I did just that.

The feature image is a public domain reproduction of Le Suicidé painting by Édouard Manet, originally coming from Wikimedia Commons.

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