Suicide in General: A Personal and Universal Narrative of Wavering to and from the Brink

The Death of Seneca (1871) by Manuel Domínguez Sánchez. Cred. Wikimedia Commons

 

Alfred J. Knox | 4 July 2018

 

In this frank examination of one man’s struggle with suicide, the grim reality of the situation - and the methods by which one may go on living - become startlingly clear.

 

The following article contains not only discussions of suicide and self-harm, but, at one point, a detailed description of the suicidal act itself. Reader discretion is advised.

‘And so on and so on and so on’

 

I don’t know exactly when I started to want to kill myself, but I remember becoming conscious of the fact that I did not want to be alive anymore. There was a titanic merging of forces in my life which pushed me into a depression so black that there was only one way I could think of to get out of it. I am not ashamed of that, and I am not yet over it – I honestly don’t think I ever will be over it. But I am still here, and I know why I am still here. I want to write something that might help you, the reader, understand suicide in a more realistic (perhaps even less romantic) way. But don’t be fooled: this is hard to write.

 

The three factors contributing to this suicidal turn are as follows. Three years ago, I was involved in a major road traffic accident. I was pulled from the wreckage of my car by a taxi driver. Lying on a cold, wet road – as strangers piled their coats on top of me in one of the few genuinely golden acts of kindness I’ve experienced - and which will live with me forever – my whole body, every nerve and sinew, burned with a hot pain. Writhing on the ground I realise my right leg wasn’t moving. Three years later the femoral pin used by hospital staff to put my leg back together is still there; it still causes me discomfort and agony – and any given day I am in constant pain. That’s hard to fight with a smile.

 

The event caused a marked personality change, as anybody who knew me before and after the accident could testify. I became bitter and angry at the world. I still have flashbacks to the crash: the spidering of the cracks on the windshield; the horrible sound of two cars banging into each other. It’s sometimes debilitating. But I fought that then with the help of a support network that was strong and caring. Last year I began to lose that network.

 

For obvious reasons I won’t go into as much detail on this factor. Namely that last year there was a major fall out in my family. My close-knit kin of eleven – but as strong as one hundred, believe me – was diminished to a superficial six, and even so, it is realistically only two that I can rely on. Never much one for having friends, my family was the fundamental support group I had – but they couldn’t be there for me this year when my spiral began.

 

I had a break up. My significant other of five years split up with me. I can almost already hear the sighing, the tutting, and the assumption of self-pity from the reader. That would be uncalled for; I was with my significant other for five years, from 16 to 21. I grew up with her, I developed my personality and character around her. My sense of self, of my identity, of what I am worth, was tied up with her. To lose her was to lose a huge part of myself. I was grieving.

 

It was here that my own Black Dog began to take hold. An already angry young man in regular pain and with some psychological damage, with very little personal support, goes through a traumatic break up. It was overwhelming. An undefinable, unquantifiable, hurt took hold of my entire body. I turned to self-harm. I make no assumptions of the reader, but for those who haven’t self-harmed I’ll make some attempt at describing the sensation.

 

I personally cut myself. To feel the cold blade penetrate my skin, to concentrate my existential pain into one concentrated area of physical pain, was blissful. For just a moment, as blood spilled from my arm or my leg, I could regain a hold of myself. I became normal, less hurt, for just a minute or two. It was a relief that I began to lust for.

 

There’s a dark, almost comic, twist to the fact that while some wholesome old lady somewhere was searching Google for “devil’s food cake recipes”, I was using it to research ‘methods of suicide’ (see image). I’ve included a table that I found, where somebody has made a list of the optimal methods – trading off between lethality, time, and relative pain. It’s a remarkable list, reflective of the effort I put into coming up with my own method that I would use when the time came. If it happens, and it might still, this is how I am going to go:

I am going to take four aspirins and draw a hot bath. The aspirin will work as an effective blood thinner and as a mild painkiller, the bath will relax me. Then, in a continuity with my self-harm, I will cut my wrists, along and up my fortunately (unfortunately?) well-defined veins. My thinned blood will run out of my body, aided by the warm water, where I will head towards a blissful end.

 

You may note, reader, with a cynical attitude that I find endearing, that I am typing this article rather than sitting in a bath of blood. That is because something remarkable happened to me, an event of such insignificance in the story of humanity but of such importance to the story of my life that I will never forget it: my best friend phoned me and asked me to go for a pint; he was having relationship worries and needed someone to talk to.

 

In the pub, sinking lager with my friend, listening to his problems and trying by best to help him think through to a resolution, I had two clear thoughts. Firstly, I was stunned by the irony that someone with relationship troubles was turning to me for help – me, the very person whose relationship troubles had pushed him to the brink of life itself. Secondly, and of more relevance to this piece, I realised how much I mattered to my friend who, in an hour of need, turned to me for help. I might not think my life is worth anything and it might not hurt me to die, but it would hurt him as it would hurt others. I am not dead because I do not want anybody else in my life – friends, family, lovers, acquaintances, work colleagues, classmates – to be hurt, I think I’ve taken enough hurt for the lot of us.

 

And so I beat on, a boat against my own current. And I have a trick for staying alive that I want to share with you; inspired, in no small way, by Slavoj Žižek In Disparities he writes:

Years ago, because of some private love troubles, I was in a suicidal mood for a couple of weeks. I told myself: “I could kill myself, but I have a text to finish. First I will finish it, then I will kill myself.” Then there was another text, and so on and so on, and here I still am.

 

That is almost beautiful in its simplicity and practicality. It is exactly what I have done to keep myself alive: I set myself small, realistic, and achievable goals and tell myself ‘once I have done this, I can kill myself’. My trick is to make sure I always have something else added to the list. Currently some of my goals include:

 

  • I am reading Roy Jenkins’ 900-page biography of Churchill. Once I have finished it I can kill myself.

  • My best friend is in Switzerland for a month. Once I have seen him one last time I can kill myself.

  • I have several half-finished articles for the Medusa. Once I have finished those I can kill myself.

  • There are a few Shakespeare speeches that I have only partially memorised. Once I have them fully committed to memory I can kill myself.

 

And so on and so on, as Žižek would say. This is how I have stayed alive and is how I am going to keep myself alive. Not for my own sake but rather for the sake of those closest to me. In an avoidance of their pain I have preserved and prolonged my existence. I do not necessarily thank them – I haven’t yet decided that my life is worth living – but I love them, and that’s the important part.

 

I toyed with the idea of publishing this under my own name. Given some of the details of this piece I am sure the closest friends of the Medusa already know who I am. But I am rather more concerned about you, the reader; I believe earnestly that it would diminish the power and purpose of this piece if it was signed off with my real name; it would turn it from a story in the general to a story in the particular - that is not the point.

 

The point is this: suicide can happen to anyone, and anyone can have suicidal thought. As such, I publish this under my pseudonym, because that can be anybody and anybody can want to kill themselves: maybe even you. If that’s so, then realise that I am still hissing along with the Medusa and haven’t given in just yet.

 

 

 

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