A Letter to My Future Suicidal Self
You have opened your sealed envelope because suicide is now an option. Through no fault of your own, you were drawn here by your illness and circumstances. As your past rational, cogent and lucid self, I don’t know exactly what led you to this point. To fall this far, something has happened to all you have learned in therapy and by practicing various skills. Your confidence that you are strong enough to survive this is shaken, if not completely absent. Know this, Barry: you have survived the fearsome specter of suicide before. You cannot control the events that brought you here; with courage and support you can alter your responses to the events. You can choose to survive.
Many times you have stood alone on the banks of your black river called depression with its dead and gnarled trees along the banks with green meadows in the distance. You chose not to enter the river then. Something made this time different. Perhaps it is not beneficial to focus on the path taken but to focus on the path forward.
Where are you now? Are you ankle-deep in the slow-moving waters near the safety of the riverbank? Or, have you loaded your pockets with stones, turned your back on the safe haven of the bank and moved into the swiftly moving neck-deep water in the center? Have you been carried downstream by events and emotions, past the safety of the accessible riverbanks to where the river’s edge now meets the vertical canyon walls, making an exit seemingly impossible? Even so, it is not too late. You can choose. You can cast the stones from your pockets and float down to where the terrain is more amenable to an exit from your river. You cannot choose to be rich, handsome, or loved; however, you can choose to be alive.
I cannot dispute, that at this future moment, your feelings, emotions, pain and suffering are palpable with an almost physical presence with you. You may have concluded them to be beyond the hope of real or palliative relief. Several times in your life, you have been in the river at various depths with your back to the bank. At those times, you chose to come back to the safety of the bank. What makes this time different? Is it a matter of degree; is the trauma beyond your ken?
Before the monster can be tamed, its powers and effects must be known. In May 2016, a phrase in a psychology book struck a deep emotional chord with you: “Suicide is a death like no other.” That same day you wrote the following:
Suicide is a death like no other; I cannot let this statement simply stand alone, it begs and demands that I expound upon, define and make it my own.
Suicide denies the survivors the rationality of a loved one’s slow death by a terminal illness and time to say goodbye. It denies them the righteous anger of sudden death at the malicious hands of another. It denies them the “bad things happen to good people” comfort of an accidental death. The survivors are left with questions that can only be asked but never answered and an intractable guilt due to actions not taken or clues not seen.
The grief of surviving a suicide is only comparable to the loss of one’s child. Time does not heal these special wounds. They are festering scabs, persistently and forever reopened by memories, the empty chair and thoughts of what could have been. The survivors may even lose the solace of their religion; their loved one is now and forever a sinner.
The person completing the suicide harbored no viruses, germs or bacteria. Unbidden by the breath, not conveyed by innocent contact, nonetheless others will be infected and tainted by the act itself. Perversely, those most intensely affected by the suicide may well become the most severely infected. It may lay dormant for decades, but once having lost a loved one to suicide, the survivors are now more at risk of the same sad and lonely fate. The heirs are now doubly damned; they carry the potential genetic curse and have been infected by the act.
A terminally ill person. A mother whose car has skidded off an ice-covered road into a lake; the car is filling rapidly with frigid and numbing water; her seat belt is jammed. A father trapped in the upper floors of the World Trade Center on 9/11. The person contemplating suicide has a power these others do not possess although they desperately desire it: he can choose not to die.
The person contemplating suicide is alone in a manner which brings me to tears because I so ache and desire to express it but lack the poetry and emotive skills to do so; I have experienced that desperate isolation once. The person contemplating suicide is in so many ways more alone than the physical isolation of a shipwreck survivor far from shore or a compass-less solitary hiker lost in a blinding mountain snowstorm. He is so maddeningly mentally alone because his rational self has abandoned him or been driven away. The irrational self is left in an impenetrable dark solitude with a faint light over the only door; the door is labeled ‘suicide.’
The person contemplating suicide has knowledge no others possess about themselves, even the classically terminally ill (neglecting that depression is too often a terminal illness). He knows the moment, manner and method of his passing.
Only atheists complete a suicide. Even the most devout and pious person completing a suicide, in his final moments becomes an atheist. How can he not be when his God has forsaken him?
You are now in a better position having explicitly defined suicide as a death like no other. You know what suicide is and what it does; it is no longer some ephemeral construct as it once was. You know the impact on the survivors. You retain at least the vestiges of your coping skills. Moreover, you know that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary, albeit devastating, problem. You survived August 2015. You can choose to alter your deadly path; with help and hope you can alter your potentially lethal response to events.
At 7:30 p.m. on August 22, 2015, you made a noose from your belt in a period of utter hopelessness and loneliness. You may very well be as scared now as you were then and rightly so. As you knew then and know now it would have been/will be no tepid halfhearted attempt; you would have/will die. Know this, Barry: in that indescribable fear and loneliness, staring at your improvised noose, you still retained enough wits to call your therapist and the suicide hotline. You have progressed so far since then; you have more options, skills and support. You can make a rational choice.