I don’t wear seatbelts.
Or look both ways before crossing the road.
I don’t pay attention to recommended dosages.
And I certainly never check drug interactions, allergy warnings or safety guidelines.
This may seem an odd way to introduce myself, but, when you’ve been living with a certain trait for as long as I have, things like eye colour (blue) or favourite chocolate bar (Galaxy – the one with the cookie pieces in it) tend to pale ever so slightly by comparison. This particular quirk, whether it’s a defining characteristic or an unpleasant background noise – and it has been both, and many shades in between – elicits a broad range of reactions from the general public. So please don’t freak out.
I am suicidal.
Now – before the sirens start blaring – I know that, to the uninitiated, SUICIDAL is a big, red, scary word, indeed, concept. To those who have never considered leaving the party early, who instead throw all their energies into hanging around until the dishwasher is on and the host is yawning pointedly before reluctantly reaching for their coats, it is unthinkable. The only appropriate response to such a statement is shock, horror, and the immediate seeking of prolonged and intensive psychiatric treatment for the poor soul foolish enough to confess to such terrible intentions. This reaction, by the way, is tiresome in the extreme for the confessor, who is probably distressed enough by their own emotions without being forced to take on yours. Just food for thought.
There is a difference between wanting to die and wanting to kill yourself, which, strangely enough, has provided a distinct lack of comfort to every person I’ve ever tried to explain it to. It is the difference between passive and active, between desiring something and getting it. Let me elaborate.
When the love of my life hurled himself rather abruptly off this mortal coil, I made a promise that I would stop steering into my own destruction. Finally feeling the devastation and anger that is the lot of the survivor of someone else’s fight for death, I stopped stockpiling my medications. I threw away a small armoury of razors. And I resigned myself to scores more years of wandering a world I had never really wanted, and that, it seemed, had never really wanted me.
But despite my considerable efforts a body cannot help but veer occasionally, and I began to make a game out of my own existence. It’s not fearlessness, although it leaves a similar taste in the back of your mouth; it’s more a sort of aggressive apathy (an oxymoron, I know, but hear me out). What begins as an utter indifference as to whether you live or die becomes, in time, a reckless, taunting, two fingers to death – there really is nothing like a string of failed suicide attempts to make you feel twistedly invincible. You start leaving the universe little opportunities to do you in. A casual disregard for speed limits. Ignoring the warning on the back of your cigarette packet. Absolutely refusing to see a doctor until concerned loved ones ratchet up the emotional blackmail to unbearable levels. Walking the long way home alone after dark. Small invitations to danger, as if egging on death, that gradually become unhealthy habits strategically littered through our routines. Slightly reckless, slightly adrenaline craving, slightly terrified, we court death in a thousand tiny ways.
Don’t attempt to misunderstand me; we are as afraid of dying as anyone else. What we are not afraid of, which others are, is being dead, as it seems pretty straightforward, and after all, nearly everyone is doing it. But dying, the process of ceasing to exist, is terrifying to us as well. I suppose the best way to put it is that, although we are afraid of dying, we are more afraid of living.
However, once I was firmly ensconced in the Want To Die quarter in the city of Suicidal Ideation, the fear of living required constant pushing back, by the litany of people, places and ideas that I had to continue living for, bolstered by a motley collection of vaguely-defined hopes, the whole thing becoming, if I can be frank, very tedious very quickly. It can be extremely wearying, having a part of your mind simultaneously admonishing you for suicidal thoughts and yet also trying to encourage you like a second-rate American cheerleading team. Give me an L, give me an I… GOOOOO Life! Draining.
One of the main problems is that, once suicide has occurred to you the first time, it is forever a potential tool in your problem-solving arsenal. The idea of taking your own life, which comes to you first during moments of true emotional and mental anguish, becomes a possible solution to a bad date, a fight with a friend, an unexpected bill – rarely utilised perhaps; I doubt that the majority of suicides are prompted by minor romantic setbacks or slight financial issues. But every time the thought has to be dismissed, only to re-emerge at the next hint of trouble, the more the notion imbeds itself into a psyche, and eventually it leads to people like me, for whom ‘suicidal’ is more of a personality trait than a symptom of illness. If it is possible to be casually suicidal I put myself forward as the poster child. A large proportion of my time is spent vaguely wishing I didn’t exist, with very little motivation or effort spent to effect the necessary change. I am passive. Actually, to utilise a second oxymoron, I am passive-aggressive: I make no direct approaches to death, but I make sure it knows where to find me. It’s rather as though death dumped me after a brief affair and I am taking it moderately badly – I’m too proud to call, but I always leave a forwarding address and I haven’t changed my number. And I can’t deny there may have been a couple of drunken voicemails.
Suicidal ideation, while a pain in the arse while cliff-viewing or on a tour of the local sharp knife factory, does not always require an all-guns-blazing approach. Many of us live successfully with it for years, some without ever making an Attempt (capital A optional). And some of us grow disheartened by life’s neediness and, after some struggle, grudgingly acquiesce, and agree to go on living, if we must.
You see, not all suicidal people die. (From suicide. Everybody, obviously, dies.) I won’t bore you with statistics about the relative likelihood of suicidal people dying suicidally, since, as has been previously said, you can use facts to prove just about anything, and also because frankly I have no idea myself and I don’t know how you’d Google that question. Anyone who wants to try is welcome to do so, and the best of luck to you. Let me know how you get on.
The point, which I assure you I am laboriously struggling towards, is that suicidal is not a precursor to dying, if we do not assume the attitude that LIVING is a precursor to dying. Suicidal is more like being on a diet: you always want something you know you shouldn’t have. And you’re always wondering what would happen if you cheated.
Now, before I get on with it – which, I’m sure you’re relieved to hear, I intend to do – take a moment to ponder the position of the casually suicidal. The deceptions we weave to avoid the pressured concern of the terminally alive, and the myriad frustrations brought about by the phrase “You have so much to live for.” Because actually, the trick is not to hear the scary word and sound the alarm.
The trick is to hear everything else.