Saturday, January 27, 2007


Mercifully, it has been many years since I have been seriously tempted by suicide. There was a time when it was a daily struggle. I developed a number of strategies for declining the temptation. One of the better ones was a checklist.

When the temptation first began, I used to tell myself sternly that I simply couldn't commit suicide, that I had responsibilities in the world. Someone would have to find me. It would inflict trauma on my family. That sort of thing. But the trouble with that approach was that for me, suicide was all about getting out of bondage. That train of thought only made my confinement that much more vivid. Made me feel that much more strongly that there was no way out. It tended to make things worse, not better.

So I gave myself permission. I made a formal agreement with myself. I could kill myself, but only after I did ten things.

I no longer remember what all ten things were, and I don't know how useful my list would be to anyone else -- everyone would have a different list. But most of them were very simple things. Sit up straight and take three deep breaths. Go outside and look at the sky. (So what if it's raining? I'm going to kill myself, and I'm worried about getting wet?) Think up and do something, however trivial, that would be a pleasant surprise to somebody, and which couldn't be traced to me. Stroke my cat. Get my heart rate up into the aerobic range for ten minutes. There may have been a couple designed to verify that I was really done worrying about what people thought of me -- ask an acquaintance for a hug, for instance. Maybe one or two minor housekeeping tasks -- wash the dishes in the sink, or clear off a corner of my desk; sometimes in depression a minor knot of clutter could take on a monstrously oppressive aspect for me. But it couldn't be something huge, like clean the whole house or even the whole kitchen. It had to be something that could be done in a few minutes.

Since these were the last things I was going to do on this earth, I had to do them attentively. No rushing through them. But if I got through the full list and still wanted to kill myself, I could do it. That was the bargain. I took it seriously.

Depression is very plausible, very glib. It has an answer for everything. There's no way to win an argument with it. If I tried to tell it that I might feel better if I sat up straight and took three deep breaths, it could crush me with a dozen withering replies that demonstrated, beyond any doubt, that the idea was pathetic and absurd. But it's not nearly so good at coping with the things themselves. So my strategy became to let it win all the arguments -- it was going to anyway -- but make it prove them. Okay, so asking an acquaintance for a hug won't make me feel any different. Let's just go verify it, then. Looking at the sky won't make the world any more spacious. Okay. Demonstrate it. Prove all your assertions, one by one, and I'm your man.

I never made it all the way through the list, and of course I don't know what I would have done if I had. But it was a comfort to have the procedure, and have the permission. There was a way out, and I was free to take it.

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