Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Has there ever been a point when your life seemed so painful that you considered suicide? Sure, we have all probably thought about it, at least in our teenage years when our lives are filled with such melodrama. Obviously, if you a reading this then you declined the option, but if the issue comes up again, how do you process it?

A big unknown is what lies on the other side. Does it change the equation to know that Paradise or Hell or Nothing at All awaits us in the afterlife? I say no. The decision about whether or not to end your life can be made solely on what you know about life already, and the logical, intelligent answer is usually to hang on to it.

Whatever lies beyond, it is another universe without much bearing on this one. Whether it will be eternal joy or eternal damnation or eternal nothingness, the "eternal" part means that it doesn't make a whole lot of difference whether you get there now or later. You can let this life play out, and Heaven or Hell will still be waiting for you. The only universe you know about for sure is this one and you have already built up some skills here, so you might as well use them.

That is not to say that suicide is always wrong. If we remain lucid until the day we die, there is a good chance that you and I will be making end-of-life decisions that are roughly the equivalent of suicide. For example, say we are diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the doctors give us the option of a painful and invasive treatment that may extend our life by three months but at great cost. Do we push for the three months or decline the treatment and just enjoy the time we have left? It's not like putting a gun to our head, but not accepting the treatment is still essentially a suicide decision, and in many cases it may be the right one.

You could call this a "strategic end-of-life choice," and a lot of things factor into it: not just your own comfort and well-being but that of the people you leave behind. Whatever you may believe about the afterlife, it seems clear that life on Earth will continue without you, so as you get ready to check out, this continuing life becomes more important to you than your own. Since the afterlife is beyond your control, all you can invest in is what you leave behind on Earth.

Think back to your teenage years and the suicidal thoughts you inevitably had. Were you really thinking about the good of humanity when you considered it? No, it was more like, "I'll show them! One of these days I won't be around, and THEN they'll be sorry!" That's the narcissistic form of suicide, and like other narcissistic thoughts it overestimates your own importance in the world. The fact is, you're not much good to anybody dead. Sure, they will grieve, but they'll get over it, and you'll just end up out of the loop, without any influence at all.

Post-teenage suicide - the kind where a relatively healthy adult blows his brains out with a gun - is also narcissistic. It's not thinking about the people you leave behind but only about your own selfish interests. (First of all please choose a cleaner method, because scraping your brains off the ceiling and your blood off the walls can get very expensive.) Almost always, there were options, but you were so wrapped up in yourself that you refused to see them.

Okay, so your business has failed; your spouse has left you and you lost two legs in an auto accident. That doesn't mean you are powerless or that you can't contribute anything to the world you leave behind. As long as you can move one finger, you have power in the world, and your creative challenge is to figure out how to use it.

It seems to me that just thinking about suicide can be very freeing. If you are ready to give up everything, then you should be able to step back and say, "Okay, instead of giving up everything, why don't I just give up the things that vex me?" Thinking about suicide opens the door to radical experimental solutions - like walking out on some of your commitments or letting your business fail. It's going to happen anyway if you kill yourself, so why not hang around and make these decisions selectively and strategically instead? Suicide can be a really great idea if in fact you back off from it and choose to radically restructure your life instead.

People usually consider suicide because that are hemmed in by preconceptions of what they need in life, and life just doesn't seem to be delivering. The really radical solution is not suicide but to hack away at the preconceptions. True creativity is to renegotiate things that you once thought were beyond negotiation, and hitting rock-bottom in your life opens up this option like nothing else.

I have know several people who committed suicide, and - at least in this small sample - they were all very rigid thinkers, not open to compromise. They had certain expectations about life, and that's all they would accept. When some circumstance turned against them - relatively minor in my book - they said, "Fuck it!" and checked out.

I would make allowance for overwhelming physical pain. If the disease is terminal and you are suffering so much that you can't even type on a keyboard, I suppose you might call Dr. Kavorkian (when he gets out of prison). However, most who consider suicide are suffering only psychic pain, which usually comes down to not wanting to change ones cherished preconceptions. Psychic pain is reversible, but only if you make the decision to give up something. If you are rigid and not open to change, if you care little about what you leave behind and don't see any point in life, then I guess suicide is an option. It's not my option, though. As I see it, every misfortune can be turned into an advantage if I choose to. It's not a matter of circumstance but of attitude.

Life is a resource, and you can either use it or not. If you choose not to use the remaining time at your disposal, I can't really argue with your decision, but once you do it, you're not part of my world anymore. The rest of us may grieve for a while, but we'll move on, and pretty soon we'll forget you even existed.

Isn't that frightening enough?