I think the two major causes of voluntary suicide are depression and extreme anxiety. The difference between the two is that with anxiety, everything is too much, and with depression, nothing is enough.
The two aren’t mutually exclusive, though. Some people have the wilted luck to oscillate between them. Today, I’m more interested in depression.
If you’ve lived with it for long enough, you learn to see it when it arrives. You lower your head to either nod your cap at it, or sink your forehead into your hands, depending on how resigned you are. It doesn’t become easier. It doesn’t become less burdensome.
Depression kills meaning. It removes the rose-coloured sunglasses from your eyes and shows you the stark grey you suspect the world has always been.
And that’s the conflict you ponder on. Depression versus meaning. If you could sincerely believe in an authentic meaning in something, it would allow you to argue with your depression, even when you’re in the middle of it. It would give you a lit match in the night.
You realise that a meaning in life is a reason to keep living it. ‘What is the meaning of life?’ isn’t just the question first years with hard ons for chain-smoking French philosophers ask anymore. It’s a life or death for you.
We can create an infinity of meanings and live genuinely happy lives, if these meanings would be authentic enough for us to fool ourselves with. That might sound cynical, but depression does not go easy on these ideas. It will destroy them if you don’t honestly believe them. And we have to invent them when there is no objective meaning (I’m not getting into that now).
If you have something that you find meaningful – family, a passion project, a legacy, religion, a career, hope that things will change, love – then suffering becomes sacrifice. Sacrifice is something we can handle because it implies that we decided one thing was worthwhile enough to suffer for.
But if we can’t find something we believe in, and depression keeps stripping the shallow meanings away from us, then why keep living? At what point does it become a rational choice to kill yourself? If you’ve looked at support groups, tried the medication, and read up on the happier philosophies and they haven’t helped; if you’ve run through every idea you have for doing something within your power to create or discover meaning, and you’ve found nothing; if you’ve found yourself outside of a depression, thinking clearly and unemotionally of practical ways to kill yourself – then why not?
You hit the zen of true internalised absurdism, and become free to do anything. You recognise that suicide isn’t escaping into the void, it’s escaping from the void inside of yourself. So with that contingency, you sell everything you own and leave for a forgotten cottage on some viridian mountain in misty Europe, you matter-of-factly figure that if you’ve already resigned yourself to suicide, then why not do something that extreme and see if it makes life worth living? Why on Earth not?
If you’re trapped by people, the ones who will be hurt by your passing or, worse, the ones who depend on you emotionally or financially, you’re back at anxiety. But in a deep enough depression, even that won’t matter. Leaving might be your ‘psychotic break’, but god, how could you explain to people that you’re reacting as rationally as you can to something they could never understand; and that sometimes, letting the tired go to sleep is the best thing to do? You have the plug in your own hands, and just seeing if the air tastes better somewhere else might be the most meaningful piece of meaninglessness you ever come across before you decide to end it.
It’s your journey to walk, and it’s dark when we become emotional about it, but darkness is just a matter of perspective. I mean fuck it, people are able to eat factory-farmed meat while sharing intimate moments with people they love. That’s not only grim – it’s bizarre and horrifying, and much darker than someone taking their own life.
You become pragmatic about it. You wonder how to minimise the gruesomeness, how to keep your organs in donatable condition. You figure out what to do with any possessions you might have – you can’t help but smile a bit at your utilitarian attempt at maximising the good in your suicide, but you still have that distant belief that even though you couldn’t find a reason to live, you don’t infringe on someone else’s ability to do so, and might allow them the opportunity.