“We’ve Been Many Different People”

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 7 2014 @ 3:40pm

Thus the depressed person you might be right now can change:

Earlier “Ask Anything” videos from Jennifer Michael Hecht are here and here.  A reader responds to the series:

Over the period of seven years that my two kids attended their public high school, there were six student suicides (make that seven suicides if you include the young adult son of my kids’ freshman English teacher). Two of those suicides were brothers whose oldest brother committed suicide in the years before. One of these suicides still haunt me, and I didn’t even know the boy, but I knew where he did it. I still can’t walk in that park’s wooded trails without thinking of him. So yes, suicides affect even those we don’t know personally.

I have absolutely no doubt that each suicide at my kids’ school contributed to the subsequent suicides. My son had a suicide scare as a sophomore. His girlfriend called us in a panic close to midnight and told us to check the garage because she thought our son might harm himself. Although it was a false alarm, we confronted him and he confessed to us that he had been thinking about suicide and making a plan. Obviously we got him counseling, but we also had several weeks where at night my husband and I alternated waking every hour for “suicide check”. Worst period of my life as a parent, hands down. But I still have my son.

I plan to read Hecht’s book. I have had my own fleeting thoughts on suicide, although I know I would never follow through. Your discussion thread on suicide is so helpful.

Another reader:

I think something is really being missed in all the discussion of suicide, which Lucinda William’s song that you posted crystallized for me:

When you are truly depressed, there is nothing to miss. You try to eat and enjoy food, but it is tasteless; you try to enjoy someone’s touch, but there is nothing there that you can feel. “This sweet old world” becomes like a mockery; you reach for it and simply bounce off, like off  of some invisible force-field. Even the memory of enjoyment seems like some kind of mad dream.

And then Hecht comes and adds to the mockery by telling you to think of others, when you cannot even stir yourself to think of yourself because it is all so affect-less – “all” meaning the entire gestalt of sense and meaning we call the “world.” And the thought twirls in your mind and bites you because you know that theoretically you should care about others, but there is nothing left to care with. My first thought when reading Hecht was: “She really doesn’t get it – what it is like to be in such a state.” And I hasten to add: I’m glad she doesn’t. I would not wish it on anybody.

What did help me was someone taking me to a doctor and being given medications that literally saved my life. If your leg is broken, someone telling you to walk doesn’t help. You need to get the bone set and put in a cast.

Update from a reader:

On reading a couple of posts about suicide, I had what I thought were some valuable insights about the suicidal thought process, in particular the non-relevance of the otherwise lovely Lucinda Williams song. But I am not a writer, and I was sure that whatever I did try to write would be lost in the shuffle anyway. Then today, one of your readers put my thoughts into point-for-point perfect words (“When you are truly depressed, there is nothing to miss…. you cannot even stir yourself to think of yourself because it is all so affect-less”), and I felt a sense of connection and gratitude for such a diverse community, and that you give us voices. It’s why I love the Dish.

For readers new to Hecht, a recap of her bio:

Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, philosopher, historian and commentator. She is the author of the bestseller Doubt: A History, a history of religious and philosophical doubt all over the world, throughout history. Her new book is Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, out from Yale University Press. Her The Happiness Myth brings a historical eye to modern wisdom about how to lead a good life.  Hecht’s The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology won Phi Beta Kappa’s 2004 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award “For scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity.”

Popova called Stay “more than a must-read — it’s a cultural necessity.”