Ask Jennifer Michael Hecht Anything: The Impulsivity Of Suicide

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 9 2014 @ 3:39pm

And because it’s very contingent on convenience, suicide can be easily prevented in many circumstances:

A reader writes:

Regarding this video from Jennifer Michael Hecht, it’s the most useful encouragement I’ve heard to keep your life. I have mild depression, and I think about dying or going away fairly constantly. I haven’t attempted suicide, but the idea of not wanting to live is compelling. So thanks for continuing this thread.

Another reader was in a much darker place:

I suffered from soul-crushing clinical depression that started in my mid-teens and only lifted in my mid-30s. Twenty years of suicidal ideation literally every day.  I would lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to summon the energy to do anything, just utterly overwhelmed by the sick, pulsing pit of anxiety I felt in my belly, the pit that just sucked all of my life force and left me spent.  I would fantasise about getting a shotgun, laying it next to me on the bed, pointing it at my stomach, and blasting my stomach away, just to replace that awful psychological pain with something real and physical.

I even fantasised about taking out some others with me.

No-one in particular, but maybe some of those smug rugby playing jocks who were so dumbly happy and fun-loving and got all the girls.  I’ll show you what real pain feels like before I take myself out, motherfuckers.

So yeah, when I was feeling that way, I wasn’t thinking about what I would leave behind when I went. My life was so dark and full of pain, so if my death dished out some of that pain to other people, well good.  They could share in some of the darkness that I had to deal with every fucking day.

Most people had no clue.  I was clever enough to get a degree without ever opening a book, and this dark intensity I had going attracted some girls like moths to a flame.  I was dissociated enough to be able to talk to people like nothing was wrong. I was very good at hiding this inner devastation.  You know, out of consideration for those around me.  So no-one really knew.

So I agree with the idea that suicide is selfish – of course it is!  You are ending your own life: what could be more selfish?  But I also cannot in any way endorse the folks who generate moral outrage out of this – “how can this person have not thought of the people they left behind?”  People who think this way have never experienced real depression.  They have no idea of the utter nihilism that drives the act.  If they were granted one day of staring into that abyss, I do believe their moral outrage would vanish and be replaced with a profound sadness and sorrow for the suffering that those people had to endure, day in a day out, before they made the choice to just fucking end it once and for all.

For the record, I made it through.  I was lucky.  A chance prescription to an anti-depressant 10 years ago (one of the few I had never tried before) actually worked, and lifted the darkness for the first time in decades.  After a few weeks, I started seeing colours brighter, seeing the good in people, not the ugly.  I used this new energy to get into therapy, where I stayed for years, after I had dropped the prescription and worked to understand what the hell had happened to me.

I’m still on that road – I’m not immune to feeling low and anxious – but I have a pretty good marriage, two wonderful kids and a business of my own. I do community work and employ people whom I treat well.  I never suffer suicidal ideation anymore; I fear death now, sometimes with more anxiety that is healthy I guess. But man, this is a life I never expect to be able to live.  And it is good.

Jennifer’s previous Ask Anything videos here. Update from a reader:

As much as I applaud your in-depth look at suicide, I wish you would mention Friends for Survival, who, for more than three decades, provide support for those who have lost a friend or relative to suicide. They have scores of materials to help people through what is often the darkest time of their life. They even have crisis counseling for those for whom the event is recent (and I greatly admire those counselors – I accidentally picked up one of those calls when volunteering there and spoke to a women who had three hours earlier found her 16-year-old son hanging from a belt in his closet; I was simply devastated). They also have a lending library, skill forums, and host of other tools to help make a difference. For anyone who is feeling the pain of a suicide death, these are THE folks to go to.

Update from that reader on 4/10:

I’ve heard from the phone counselors and they’ve already sent out five new family packets of materials to callers who saw the item on The Dish. God bless you, thank you. 

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