Sunday, August 17, 2008

Suicidal ideation

Suicidal ideation is just a fancy way of saying "I'm thinking about suicide." Why did I use it as the title to this post? I suppose it was my way of taking the sting out of the idea of thinking about suicide (and I stress, not out of actually committing the act).

There's some anecdote out there that if you take a psychological test that includes as a question, "Have you ever thought of suicide?" and answer "No", you are lying. I have no idea where this idea comes from nor whether it is backed up by any study, but I'd venture to guess that it's not true. I do not believe that every single person has thought about suicide. Or maybe, if we're being literal, every single person has thought about suicide, but not about doing it, but I don't think that's what the anecdote is implying.

I dare say that some depressed person made that story up to make themselves feel better.

At the risk of frightening people, I am going to write about suicidal ideation. I have in the past, and got worried e-mails and phone calls. I appreciate the concern, but I will put your minds at rest: I am not going to commit suicide. For one thing, I think it is an immoral act, and even if I'm not around to reap the consequences of doing something I unequivocably denounce, this alone will stop me. I will not hurt others in this way. I may be capable of hurting myself, both with ill-will and destructive behavior, but I extend others much more courtesy (I hope). What a stiff way of putting the fact that I would not allow myself to be the cause of others suffering. Suicide is a terrible thing to do to others.

Anyway, even at my lowest points of depression, I've always been too curious about life to end it, even as part of my mind is screaming at me to consider it seriously. The best remedy (for me) against the worst case scenario of a depressed mind is intellectual and creative interest, and luckily, I seem to be able to be distracted by things easily. The absurdity of it is quite funny, really. As long as there is something new to learn (or even a good new movie I haven't seen), I'll stick around. In fact, I would like to live to 300. All of this goes to show how irrational thinking about suicide actually is (at least for me).

Those of us who are plagued with suicidal thoughts try to keep it a secret, and I think this is a mistake. Unfortunately, you can be put in psychiatric ward for just saying the word "suicide", as it's a liability issue. It's too bad (what an understatement) that this is true. Once a professional hears the word, something must be done.

If we were allowed to talk about suicide without so much reactivity it would be far better. At some point in my life, I realized that thinking of suicide was something like the "default mode" in my brain. Again, I think, on a good day, that's it's rather funny. I may burn the oil in a frying pan due to inattention and think, "I ought to kill myself." Realizing I can't fit into last year's pants might produce the same exact thought. Killing oneself over gaining weight or burning the dinner is clearly insane. But I bet it does happen.

I doubt the majority of folks who have these thoughts find them very funny. If they felt safe talking about them, they might start to. Diffusing the stigma of having such thoughts seems like a good idea to me. Maybe I'm asking for it to be "normalized". What if the anecdote I started this post with, that everyone has given suicide some thought, was true? Wouldn't it then seem safe to say that there's an awfully large amount of silence about this subject?

Even if it isn't, there is too much silence. When Heath Ledger killed himself, the general response was "Why?" How could no one know? How?

I know one reason: It's called shame. Especially for someone like a "star", feeling worthless enough to want to die is something you just aren't going to tell anyone. First of all, it pisses people off. We harbor a delusion in this country that success equals happiness even though we are also taught that "money doesn't buy happiness" (but any idiot could tell you that the media tells us otherwise).

You can't afford an iPhone? Perhaps you should consider yourself a failure (and kill yourself). You got sucked into a sub-prime mortgage? You're a sucker (and you should consider suicide). You were fired from work? What did you do wrong? Idiot (kill yourself!)

If you think what I've written above is an exaggeration, I would ask you to read the news more carefully. We are bombarded with messages that being victims of a bad economy (causing lay-offs, foreclosures, bankruptcies) should render us completely miserable. That's the kind of thing that would cause a person to consider suicide.

We're told this, over and over. We're also bombarded with mixed messages about the value of "stuff" - the credit card ads that show us all the things we can purchase with all that credit but end with sweet little sayings like "Free time - Priceless!" That's right, money doesn't buy you love, either, but that's another line of bull that we all know isn't true. Money buys a man a super model for a girlfriend, doesn't it?

Okay, I know I'm all over the map and should reign myself in. The point, the point, the point is. . .we are subjected to endless messages of just how we should succeed and just how we've failed and how to react to both.

But, we are given nothing for what really ails us, which is the emptiness at the heart of our society. The truth is that money does not buy us love or happiness or any other non-thing, but not having money does cause suffering. Not having adequate shelter, food or heating oil is stressful. But beyond that, there is an essential meaninglessness in most peoples' lives. Unfortunately, much of that is increasing being filled with fundamentalist religions and too much medication.

I don't know the answer to any of this. I do know that I feel better for having sat down and written about it. Is it just 'cause I "got it off my chest"? I don't think so. I think it's because harmful ideas take root in dark places. The more we try to keep a thing that's hurting us a secret, the more power we give it.

So, as to suicide, I'd rather talk about and joke about and say "Yeah, I sat down at my kitchen table and wrote a bad will just this past Spring" 'cause I was in a bad mood.

I'm not meaning to minimize anyone's pain. I only want to add my voice to a others who say let's start talking about these things, and do it without all the hand wringing and emergency reactions. Perhaps then, we'll know something about why others are contemplating suicide. Even if someone does actually kill themselves, we'll not be able to say "Gee. I had no idea that were depressed.

Painting note: The painting "Ophelia" (1851) by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais. Gee, doesn't that look peaceful?

I was going to post a picture of Dr. Kevorkian and ask to be reminded to post my controversial-amongst-my-peers opinion of doctor assisted suicide, but I thought it was time for another painting (though I was searching for the famous suicide in a bathtub scene - Seneca? I can not remember!)


W.C. Varones said...

We have already counted 41 suicides and murders in Greenpan's Body Count.

Julie H. Rose said...

I presume you mean Greenspan.

I have no cogent analysis of financial matters and politics.
However, I will argue that the problem isn't economics, per se, but the value system that tells us that our worth as human is equal to our paychecks and equity. Remember how they gauged the price of life of 9/11 victims?

W.C. Varones said...

I agree, but the economic becomes deeply personal, emotional, and traumatic when it means losing your house or not being able to provide for your family.

The stories behind Greenspan's Body Count are here. The premise is that Greenspan created the housing mania and bubble, which swept up a lot of naive victims.

Julie H. Rose said...

And I agree with you that the economic can be deeply personal, emotional and traumatic.

I just deleted a long response, but I may just save that for another post.

I will say, however, that I am not going to martyr myself to the broken American dream by killing myself over the fact that this year I've had to file for bankruptcy. Don't add me to the body count.

Anonymous said...

Heath didn't kill himself it was an accidental overdose.

Julie H. Rose said...

If Heath Ledger was indeed an accidental overdose, then plug someone else's name into the paragraph.

I have to add, however, that I could ask "why was he self medicating so intensely?"