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Stop Saying Suicide Is Cowardly

This is going to piss off a lot of readers, but I don’t care. The people it will piss off are the ones who have already pissed me off by their uneducated, ignorant claim in the first place.

The first thing I’m going to say that will piss them off is this:

If you have never been plagued by depression, or never watched a loved one crippled by this disease, kindly shut the fuck up.

I can’t state this enough. You have no business pontificating on a subject about which you know nothing. And by making your statement, all I hear is, “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’m going to give you my opinion anyway, because I know more about it than you do.”

I hate to burst your bubble, but here’s an uncomfortable truth: People with depression don’t want to die!

People with depression don’t want to die!


Here’s the thing: on both occasions I tried suicide, it wasn’t because I wanted to die; I simply wanted the pain to stop. I was in a place where I could no longer think rationally. After all, do you really think that if I could see any other solution I wouldn’t have chosen it instead?

And that, dear friends and critics, is the difference between my depression and your “sanity:” the inability to think clearly and rationally. Did I really want to die? Did I consider how my death would affect my family? My friends?

Of course I didn’t: I was so overwhelmed by my depression and its pain and agony that I was incapable of any thought at all, much less rational thought.

Was I a coward? Or was I in a state where suicide was my only rational choice?

Do you see the contradiction here? That I was in such pain that I was incapable of clear, rational thought that to me, suicide seemed to be the only rational solution.

Unless you’ve been there, you won’t understand. And being there, you don’t see any other solution. Which is why depression can so often be a fatal disease.

So before you call suicide “Cowardly,” or “The easy way out,” or any other stupid thing, stop and think: what would you do if you saw no other way out of a soul-deadening, horrifying life of agony, with no hope of improvement?

One more thing: there’s a reason J. K. Rowling modeled the Dementors on her own depression.


We’re All Mad Here

‘“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”’—Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

One of the greatest coping skills I learned after yet another failed suicide attempt (have you ever had a tube inserted in your nose and snaked down to your stomach as part of a gastric lavage?) was something I realized when my therapist told me: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The realization—or rather, the skill—was so simple I was amazed that I hadn’t thought of it before was this: when things get so dark that I start to consider simply ending it all, I put on my headphones, fire up iTunes on my laptop, and put George Harrison on a loop. All Things Must Pass is my mantra. I listen to it over and over again until finally, I believe it.

The other realization changed my entire outlook on life in general and my lifelong chronic depression. This time it was something I read:

The question we should be asking is not “What’s wrong with you?” Rather, we should be asking “What happened to you?”

That changed my perspective from “What did I do to deserve this?” to “What caused this to happen to me?” And even then, it took a much longer time to drop the “to me” and stop looking at myself as a victim.

I am not a “victim of depression;” I am a survivor. I now approach this struggle in much the same way practitioners of Aikido approach their opponents: find your enemy’s strength—in this case, his energy—and turn it against him.

I’ve spent years discovering my enemy’s strengths. Knowing them, I have learned how to turn them against what Churchill called his “black dog,” and what Rowling put a face to with the Dementors.

The result? Between those two realizations, new medications, and therapy, it’s been over 3 years since my last suicide attempt, and 2 years since I’ve had even so much as a thought of harming myself.

We may be, as the Cheshire Cat claims, “all mad here.” But that’s no reason we can’t fight back. That’s no reason we can’t be mental health ninjas.


Do you suffer from depression? Do you have thoughts of self-harm? Of suicide? You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1–800–273–8255. Even though I’m on the mend, I still keep the number on speed dial.

Knockin’ on heaven’s door

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.
”Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” Bob Dylan

I first heard that song in 1973, when I was saw the movie “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid.” It was a simple tune, and quite easy for me to learn on the guitar.

Kelly St. Clair, Jr.

Kelly was my partner in the security business we bought and renamed “T & S Security.” The “T” was for his daughter Tanya, and the “S” was for my daughter Suzzanne. They were the same age, and both of them less than a year old.

Because Kelly and I were business novices, and hadn’t exercised what we would later know as “due diligence” when we bought the business, we soon realized that it wasn’t bringing in enough income for us both to live on. So I gave up my half of the business and found work elsewhere.

We drifted apart, and I didn’t hear from Kelly for another 4 or 5 years.

I knew how much Kelly loved his daughter; he had told me many times that she was his reason for living. I, too, loved my daughter, and had hoped that the girls would grow up to be friends.

In my late twenties, the clinical depression that runs in my family manifested itself and I ended up in the hospital. My roommate? Non other than Kelly! It turned out that he had shut down the business and moved his family back to their home village of Hoonah, where he was employed as the chief of police.

Over the next two or three days we caught up, sharing stories of what we had done in the intervening years.

Finally, Kelly was discharged, and returned home.

Mama, Take This Badge Off Of Me

The next day, the head nurse, who was also a friend, told me that Kelly was dead.

It developed that when he got home, his wife, with whom he had been arguing, told him that Tanya, the light of his life and sole reason for existing, was another man’s child.

I never knew the truth of the matter; all I knew was that upon hearing the words, Kelly Frank St. Clair, Jr., the closest friend I have ever had in my life, took his .357 magnum revolver, placed the muzzle against his chest, and pulled the trigger. The hollow-point round exploded his heart, and he died instantly.

Knockin’ on heaven’s door

A few years later, I had the opportunity to visit Hoonah on an unrelated subject. Before I came home, I hiked to the cemetery and found my dear friend’s grave. I had brought my guitar, and standing over the grave, I sang the song I had learned all those years ago:

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

Bob Dylan

 

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

 

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

 

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

 

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door