I think about death sometimes.
I think about being not dead and what that means. I think about all the time I spent, passively and actively trying to get dead.
I think about death less than I used to but perhaps more than many other people. At least I suspect I do. When you dance on the line between life and not-life, when you flirt with death and even attempt to embrace it, having it pop back into your thoughts on occasion isn’t a surprise.
It’s always hard to let go after the break up.
Sometimes people ask me about death. Medical professionals mostly, but also old friends and new acquaintances. Sometimes they’re curious. They learn bits and pieces of my life story through this avenue or that and want to know what it’s like to chase death. Sometimes they’re simply curious. Sometimes it’s an exercise in shaming couched in “scare me straight” language or a lecture on not being appropriately appreciative of all of life’s gifts. It’s hard for the never-suicidal to believe death was truly the point.
Although in a sense they are correct. The point is to make the unbearable stop. Death is just the means.
Perhaps that’s what the conversations should be about. Not about death, which is simply the end point but about all the stuff that paves the road leading to it.
It’s not that I wanted to be dead, it’s just that the eternal and ugly sameness of the depression and eating disorder made the promise of absence tempting. Nothingness has an appeal. It was the only way out that I could see and believe in. That can be hard for people who experience reality differently to understand.
I’m not allowed to seek out death on purpose anymore, however. I made a promise. No more suicide attempts. Besides, the truth is that while I’m depressed and despairing, while I wake up sad and count the minutes until I can once more seek respite in sleep, I’m not suicidal. No ideation.
That’s not a complaint. Ideation sucks. There’s no upside to persistent intrusive thoughts about ways you could kill yourself at any given moment. Except I just thought of some. Dammit. Recurrent ideation does allow you to practice not attending to certain thoughts. It allows you to practice examining your thoughts and letting them go. It allows you to remember that feelings generated by thoughts are not necessarily real.
I’ve been close to death on purpose and I think about those times.
I’ve been close on other occasions an I think about the accidental times too. I was quite sure I wanted to live on those occasions, odd behaviours notwithstanding.
I came close a few years back when the infection that rose from my cutting raged out of control. Two rounds of serious IV antibiotics and a surgery and I was still sick. My body was just tired. I thought that would be such an embarrassing way to go – self-inflicted bacterial infection. The cutting was never about getting dead. It was about getting perfect.
Allergies can get you too. I’ve had several anaphylactic reactions that closed up my throat. I’ve had subsequent doctor-assisted electrical shocks to the heart. The television lies. You do not sit up post-shock, smile, and carry on with life. It hurts. I felt like I’d been shocked by the application of a sledgehammer.
And of course, there are the viruses that are so much the rage these days. I’ve had some personal experience there too. Not only did the virus nearly kill me – by the time I was diagnosed, I was a shadow of the shadow that was myself – I got to experience over and over the sexism and bigotry of the medical system. When the diagnosis wasn’t what the particular doctor I was visiting suggested, they’d move on to blaming depression or become convinced it was uterine-related.
I think about how sick that virus made me when I read stories about people who’ve likely never had a serious viral infection whine about social-distancing constraints. I think about it when I read about COVID parties. How does the wisdom go again, be careful what you wish for? Viruses are vicious.
I’ve been close to death an awful lot but I’ve never crossed over.
I think about that sometimes. The why of my survival. I’m mostly pleased to be here but I’m curious. Why me when others didn’t? My continued existence is a puzzle I try to solve as I contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. *
Is my survival due to random luck and chance? Is it God? Was I supposed to survive? Do I have a purpose? Is my celebrity status pending? If there’s a plan and a reason, what’s up with the mental illness? Some kind of cruel joke (I’ve long suspected God had a dark sense of humour)? Or is that part supposed to inspire growth? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger or some other trite trope.
Do I have an existential role to play? Is the meaning of life to live to the best of your ability in each moment until you’ve amassed a lifetime of moments? Is the meaning of life simply to live?
I think about death sometimes. It’s interesting how often that turns into thinking about life.
*Douglas Adams. Life, The Universe, and Everything. New York: Pocket Books, 1985, ©1982.