Thursday, July 2, 2009

And the other topic was. . .

. . .my increasingly firm belief that the only way to "cure" mental illness is through spiritual practice.

I was thinking this as I drove home tonight from my Zen meditation group. Then, I promptly forgot all about it.

About an hour ago, I found out that a person I had known briefly, but well, committed suicide. I'm thinking about her, and all the other people I have known who have done the same (too many).

I've been at the edge of that abyss, but I always knew that I'd never jump in. There are many things that have stopped me. The most trivial of these is the reason I call this blog "everything is interesting." No matter how depressed I've been, if there's something new to discover, I must keep going. And of course, there is always something new to discover. If I'm in the middle of a book, I want to finish it. I want to see the next good movie. I want to discover a treasure in my mailbox. I want to see what blooms in the garden, or what bird returns to my feeders.

But, none of this would matter if I didn't firmly believe that suicide is immoral. Yes, immoral.

Please don't mistake me; I do not judge those who choose to end their lives. Their decision was not immoral.

And yes, that is a conundrum.

I can understand wanting to put an end to ones' pain. But, as one persons' pain has ended, others' pain begins.

During the winter, there was another suicide I knew, and I remember a friend of hers, angrier than hell and hurting, telling me that she couldn't forgive, for she had been there for her, all along her path of recovery from a previous attempt. Was her friend lying about feeling better? Anger. Hurt. Sadness. From one person to another. It does not end with death.

We all suffer. I think there is always hope. I think there is always the possibility of change, and because I think this is so, suicide is not an option, even for the worst of situations. When every moment is an opportunity to be fully alive, even to pain (the ultimate learning tool), suicide is just not an option.

I'm sad for those who can not see any other way. I wish they could have felt what is the truth. Even the smallest life has meaning, touches others, sends ripples out in all directions, for we are all connected.

That is what makes our suffering, and what we do about it, a spiritual condition. Our interconnectedness is broken, irrevocably, even for one instant, when even one of us chooses to take our own life.

Painting note: "Ophelia" Paul Albert Steck 1895

A few more thoughts:
1. I hesitated using this romanticized depiction of a suicide; the beautiful young woman, finally "at rest."
2. I rail at the notion of finally being at rest in death. We can find rest in life. As long as we continue to push or believe the notion of pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, people will continue killing themselves and others, whether it's for 72 virgins or solace.
3. I am sorry that I am unable to clarify the idea of "spirituality" cogently. I will continue to try. Life is abundant and transcendent in a speck of dust. That is spiritualty for me. And as long as that holds true, life is always interesting, and worth living.


Tania said...

That's very thought-provoking.
I tend to agree that while there is something new to discover, suicide would not be an option for me.
But I have been clinically depressed, and have felt the 'black blanket' which makes it seem there will be nothing ever again to look forward to. It's very hard to fight that feeling. I fought it by forcing myself to do things I'd taken pleasure in before, even though I had lost interest in them. (Like the theory that smiling when you don't feel like it eventually cheers you up). It worked, eventually.
It's true that a suicide may have ended their pain, but started somebody else's. I knew a man, for instance, who hanged himself at home, knowing that his wife of 50-something years would inevitably be the one to find him. She has never recovered from that. What was he thinking? He loved her, they had no strife. To do that to her.... well, I called it selfish at the time, and was lambasted for it. I haven't changed my mind, though.

Julie H. Rose said...

Yes, it is selfish, but while in what you call the "black blanket" one may think they're doing their loved one a favor. "I'll free them from having to live with me." "I hate being a burden." There's myriad delusions that fuel the flames.

And, though no one wants to ever say this out loud, there's also anger. "He'll be sorry NOW." "Now they'll see how much pain I was in!" "I asked for help and there was none. . ."

Yes, I believe anger plays a huge role in the final act.

But ultimately mental illness can't be explained with reason alone. It is an illness, and an illness of the spirit. . .so complex.

Thanks, Tania, for joining the discussion.

brian said...

As one who has been wrapped in the black blanket at times throughout my life, from my early twenties onward, I can tell you that (for me, at least)I can't bear the thought of someone finding me, and what that would mean for them. The percussive after effects of suicide and death in general are absorbed by life, I think. That's one of the things which eggs me on in those moments of despair.

Yes, there is so much to experience and everything is interesting. But when everything is interesting it can also on some level be viewed as interchangeable, right down to people. It requires persistence of perspective to discover not just things but their differences, and to give meaning to those differences. The title of the blog derives its frisson from that paradox, for me.

Everything "is". I don't think people are technically interchangeable, but I feel we live in a culture where, now more than ever, we digest and exhaust things at a profoundly accelerated rate, which can leave me wondering, in my darker moments, how much experience I can continue to have when ultimately it is all just more...experience.

I know too from my own background that people I've loved who aren't here anymore live on in my mind and being but at a necessarily diluted concentration, otherwise I wouldn't be able to go on with my daily routine. The mind compartmentalizes in a merciless way.

So what really disturbs me is the knowledge that someone would find me, and that's an altogether different thing. Experiences like that resist compartmentalization and insidiously molest the psyche. My aunt had just married my uncle when, at Christmas dinner, his father retreated into his mother's room and shot himself. My aunt and uncle began their life together literally cleaning up the mess. Such violence, rippling out in concentric circles. Such a responsibility, and whatever you think about how and where "it" ends, that violence lives on, and you've contributed to it if not created it. Growing up, I felt a stagnant sadness in my aunt and uncle's relationship, an inchoate disturbance, like an invisible third party.

My mother was with my grandmother when she died a sudden death, a squalid scenario on the bathroom floor. Those images enter into your personal narrative. There are few ways to process them, to put perspective on them. They're too brutal, too unwieldy. So yeah, there's a huge factor of personal complicity.

That said, when the black blanket descends, as Tania says, it's powerful, and seductive--and it's chemical. It's a sickness. I'm not advocating medication (though I'm not not advocating it either) but depression is genetic, hereditary, and when someone's vision is poor we don't (most of us) tell them they should simply focus on seeing better. It requires a form of intervention (glasses, in this case, though ok, I know some people who went the Aldous Huxley route and see just fine now, according to them). And sometimes I'm the last person with the power to intervene. And as many ways as I can "think" my way out of the blanket, I find myself in another one of its folds.

Thanks for the post.

Julie H. Rose said...

Thank you, Brian, for your thoughts; beautiful and honest. I hope to hear more from you.