Okay, it’s Write Tips day, I know. Mondays I always post them. But this week I don’t have one ready, and part of the reason is that I just can’t get suicide off my mind. I got news yesterday that takes me back to a dark time in my own life.
When I was in my teens, I once sat with my dad’s Army reserve pistol in my mouth, aching to pull the trigger. The barrel was cold against my lips, the gun heavy–it shot .22 caliber but weighed like a .55 (he was a military doctor and didn’t need or want real firepower). I’d loaded it, because I had done so many times using it for target practice in the fields on my Grandpa’s old farm. I don’t remember why I didn’t want to live. I just remember wanting the pain to stop–pain of rejection, not fitting in, no one understanding me, feeling so alone. I also remember picturing pieces of my head all over the wall and my mom’s face as she had to kneel down and clean it up. (She probably wouldn’t have had to do it herself but that never occured to me.) I just couldn’t do that to her, so I put the gun away and left their room and went on to live another day.
Since that time I’ve toyed with the idea a couple times when I was depressed or down, but never seriously thought of suicide again. Not to the point of acting on it or even planning it. But a high school classmate’s older brother, who was a family friend, killed himself when we were in high school. He ate a shotgun in a Kansas field, and so I can’t help, as I watch another family go through this nightmare, thinking about that day and wondering what was in my friend, Todd’s, mind all those years ago, which made him pass that point of no return.
Most people have a really hard time understanding suicide. Most people just don’t get why anyone would do it. Oh they joke about people who had nothing to live for or this and that, but when it really comes down to it, they just can’t imagine. But for those of us who have had serious depression, it’s easier to contemplate. Because being in that deep, dark place is a very dangerous place to be and it feeds on itself in its attempts to defeat you. No one’s told me the specific circumstances of my latest friend’s actual death, but he had to have been depressed. Happy people don’t take their lives. Happy people have hope. Deeply depressed people couldn’t find hope if it stared them in the face.
How is this possible?
Depression is such a deep darkness and sadness that literally it’s impossible to believe at the time that you could ever get out. God can’t even reach you there, and, if you believe in a God who’s everywhere, that’s devastating. People may know you’re down and say encouraging things but they just bounce off the surface, never sinking in. Because people always do that for those they care about but you know the truth of your own real patheticness and worthlessness. They’re just being kind but you know they can see. Your life isn’t worth a thing and you’re just a burden one everyone. Eventually you reach a point of such anger at yourself for wasting everyone’s time and emotions and energy on your worthless self that, frankly, relieving them of the burden seems the only kind thing you can do. Enter suicide.
Most people don’t want to be a burden. Especially to those we love. Even if we don’t really believe they can truly love us or understand why. We don’t want that delusion to be a burden so it’s our fault for deceiving them or sucking up all that energy and if we die, they’ll be better off. Oh it may hurt in the short run, but they’ll eventually realize we were holding them down and be so glad we’re gone. So relieved the burden is over.
Sounds nuts? Well, it’s not right thinking. But that is somewhat what it’s like to be depressed and suicidal. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never lived it. In any case, it’s truly a tragedy when someone goes there and doesn’t find the way out.
The M*A*S*H* theme song went: “Suicide is painless. It brings on many changes. And I can take or leave it if I please.” But the song is, frankly, entirely bullshit. Suicide is not painless and you either take it or you don’t. It’s final. It’s permanent. And the changes mostly come for the pained people you leave behind. Most families live with that pain the rest of their lives. Parents may divorce after the suicide of a child. The burden is just too much to bear and they wind up taking it out on each other. Siblings may follow in the suicidal footsteps, especially if one is close to the dead sibling. Or they may engage in other dangerous behaviors from drinking to promiscuous sex, etc. Whatever the details, suicide absolutely is NOT painless. It’s devastating. It’s not a gift to a family. It’s one of the most selfish, cruel acts known to man. Killing one’s self is never the right thing for anyone but you. And only in your mind is it right for you.
It’s so sad to think about anyone taking their lives, but especially the two young people I have known. The tragedy of a life cut short. A lost hope for victim and all who loved them. A lost future. A waste.
So my thoughts are on suicide and life and death and depression today. Don’t worry. I’m not suicidal. I’m just grieving the broken world in which such destruction of lives happens way too often to way too many good people.
If you have loved ones, give them a hug today. Tell them you love them. Tell them how much you look forward to every day with them and to the future, whatever comes, with them in it. Then think about my friends and their families and say a prayer. Both for comfort for them and for the blessings you have. None of us really deserve them. Whether you believe they’re from God or in God or not. Take the time to do this. Because life is precious and every moment counts.
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.