I'm planning my suicide

I don't want to do it yet, but I think it's in my future.

Published March 13, 2009 10:00AM (EDT)

Hi, Cary—

I've started planning my suicide.

I don't anticipate it will be soon -- I need to outlive my mother (who likely doesn't have many more years, however) and wouldn't take any action until she's gone. (Funny: I almost said that I can't kill myself before she dies because it would kill her. There's got to be a joke in there somewhere.)

So it's not a short-term plan, but it is out there in my future. It's one of the ways I'll mitigate my failure to plan well for retirement. It's how I'll avoid all the health implications of my current unhealthy lifestyle. It's how I'll save the people I love from having me as a burden as I get older, more pathetic, more needy.

And it is, of course, about who and what I am now. There's an emptiness, a distance from life that I can't seem to fix. I'm 34 years old, and I would say that I've been unhappy for quite a bit of the last 20 years. I actually don't expect happiness per se -- I believe that life is more complicated than that and one should really only hope for moments of happiness, periods of satisfaction within a larger expanse of "fine." But I'm not sure I believe I'll find that, really -- hence the plan.

I imagine the letter(s) I'll write to those left behind, how I'll make sure I clean up my affairs so no one has to go through too much trouble when I'm gone. What I'll give away to charity, how I'll sort my remaining belongings so they can go to family/others. And of course how I'll kill myself -- where (to minimize mess), how to arrange to be found by someone other than family (something I haven't quite resolved). The actual "how" I think I know, although I have some research to do on quantities/timing. What did people do before the Internet?

There are people who love me who will be hurt by this. Worst, I think, will be my brother -- he doesn't talk much about how he feels, but when he does, it's clear that he loves deeply. My brother, my mother and I were always our own little family unit -- by circumstance and geography distanced from other family -- and because I'm waiting for my mother to die, when I kill myself he would be the last of that trio. But he has a wife now, a child and possibly more to come, and I'm hoping he'll get through with their help. Still, I know it will weigh upon him, and for that I'm sorry.

Of course, there's a large part of me which hopes for a miracle that will change my perspective, something to save me from my inevitability. I have no idea what that would be -- in my mind, I either imagine that I cease to be at some point, or (if the miracle happens) there's one of those zigzag markers in the line of my life, like what they use on maps to show that they've cut out a chunk in the middle between the beginning and the destination. And obviously there's enough of this hope that I'm writing to you, dangling a string, wondering if this will generate a miraculous epiphany. But no pressure.

So -- I guess this would be a cry for help. I do wish someone would (purposely or inadvertently) show me that there's another way -- let's say it's a cautious hope, as my expectations are low. I might try therapy again, maybe I could make some more efforts socially or regarding my diet and health ... but I don't have a lot of hope that anything will work. But I have time -- my mother likely has a couple of years left. Time for a miracle, or time to do my research.

No Clever Name

Dear No Clever Name,

Who doesn't long for a way out of this irritating nightmare of civilization and connection, of obligation and schedule, of action and consequence! Who doesn't long for the eternal stillness of the Buddha! Who doesn't long for an end to it all! Yet suicide is a risky bet, because we do not know what death will bring, and at worst it is a sin, a crime, an abomination we perpetrate on those we love. So our best choice is to seek this feeling of stillness and peace in our waking lives, through meditation and disciplined study. Let's get gone. Let's disappear. We lose ourselves in art, in sex, in meditation and fiery breath and the eternal poses of yoga.

Let's talk about depression. Are you depressed? It sounds like you are. I'm not a psychologist but I do suffer from periodic depression and have entertained my measure of suicide scenarios and here is the sentence that rings so true to me that I feel as though you have lived through what I have lived through, that bleak horror, that infuriating fog: "There's an emptiness, a distance from life that I can't seem to fix."

I think it is biochemical. I keep it at bay with exercise, meditation, adequate sleep and good nutrition. But it is never completely gone. I will have a good few weeks or a good few months, and I will be riding high, and then something will shift. I will miss exercising or will eat too much of the wrong thing, or get off my sleep schedule, or I will be flying and eating unfamiliar food and suffer jet lag, or maybe I will not be aware of what happens, but suddenly there will be an aura of awfulness around my loved ones. Everyone will sound stupid and intolerably cheerful, and I will imagine the satisfying ways I might lash out at them to right the perceived imbalance, the wrong that seems to be at the core of existence, and when I cannot arrest it in time (I usually can, these days, because I am so alert to its name, its claws, its rustle, its enervating aroma), it will lead me to contemplate the ways in which I might put a satisfying end to all this.

I also think it is behavioral. My head is full of chatter. When I started hearing it, at first I did not believe that it had any relevance or power. I had voices that said I could not write, that life was hopeless, that I might as well give up. I went through stages with this. At first I was not consciously aware of these voices. Then I became consciously aware of them but did not know what to do about them. Then I consciously and concretely challenged them. That was the beginning of my liberation from that source of depression. That was accomplished with cognitive behavioral therapy.

So there are many concrete actions one can take to combat the underlying conditions which, in my humble and unprofessional opinion, seem to lead to "suicidal ideation." My approach is multifaceted and long-term. Seen as a whole, it is a collection of resources, or tools. It does involve a certain amount of just gutting it out as well.

Another thing: I try not to get too far from the last time I felt well. If it had been years since I felt OK, I know it would be hard to convince myself that whatever period of depression had descended upon me would lift. It would be hard to believe that it would ever lift. So it is important to have periodic moments of good feeling. Seek them out. Seek out periods of good feeling. Your memory of them can keep hope alive during the periods that you descend into suicidal depression. I do not know if this is experimentally verifiable, but I have found that just remembering in detail those moments when I have felt high, vibrant and OK can lift me up out of the gray soup for a time. A little bit, anyway. Enough, perhaps, to keep me from imagining the darkest of darknesses. This can be accomplished through meditation in bright sunlight, or while walking in the fresh air.

It is a struggle. I will move on to something new and interesting. Then I am in depression again. I ask, what has happened? Oh, I see, I stopped the aerobic exercise. Or I have not been sleeping. Or I should eat some fish. Or I have been walking around with unexpressed anger for days. Or I have not been praying. Or it's been weeks since I went to a meeting.

This is how I get along.

Your idea of the sudden break, the miraculous, the lacuna in the map, intrigues me. Such moments are real. Many interesting people have documented such things. You might read William James on this.

I like your cautious hope and the fact that you instinctively grapple with fundamental questions. I like your wry sense of humor. I am glad you wrote to me. At first I did not know what to say, but that was because, for a moment, I succumbed to the delusion that I actually had some agency, and then I remembered that of course it is out of my hands. People come and go despite what I say.

I am not a person who cures anybody. I am not a doctor or a magician. I am just somebody who talks about his own experience. And my own experience has been this: I have found many methods, tools and practices that keep the worst of it at bay. Many of these tools are free, and many others are available at a nominal cost. If you keep the worst of it at bay, you may find that your love affair with suicide sours, and your love affair with life becomes more sweet.

My best columns -- as chosen by readers

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Since You Asked Suicide