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I think about dying a lot. Well, sometimes. I don’t have an especially good grasp of the regularity of these thoughts, maybe I should attempt to keep track of them. When I was undergoing a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in the early part of last year each session began with a series of questions and scales to enable me to rate how I was feeling, mood and such to provide some quantifiable information about the therapy. The last few questions were ‘have you thought about self-harming or killing yourself this week?’, followed by another about frequency and seriousness. I always said that I’d thought about those things on most days, but that I hadn’t made a plan for it and that I still had things to live for.
Just being asked those questions reminded me that I do find my mind in dark places at some point on most days. Since the mind and my models of other minds are based on me I never really thought that was unusual. Apparently it is not usual. Oh well. What to do? I’ve always figured that the contemplated horror is less awful than the uncontemplated. To consider a thing is to give it both life and the possibility of death in your mind. To have a lurking horror that is given no expression or exploration is a thing of infinite potential. If you grant it enough room to be played out inside you can get to know it. You can see where it would go, what it would actually do and what the outcomes might be; you remove its relentless and remorseless shadow power.
I have never attempted suicide, in part because it would be so galling to attempt and fail – to get halfway through and fail at that. I don’t think I could live with myself… The reason I always gave in therapy was that ‘something new will happen tomorrow’. Dying and denying myself the possibility of a future strikes me as even worse than ceasing to exist. I would also not wish the pain on my family and friends, but honestly that concern comes second. Suicide is often described as a selfish act, but it’s so much more than that – it’s the ultimate self-denial, denial of choice, of opportunity, of agency. It’s also an assertion of power, of destiny and of independence. If we can choose nothing else in this world we could choose to escape it.
Self-harm seems much the same, though less drastic of course; it has far more opportunity for future choices. I suspect it’s about seizing control. I know that from when I was trying to put myself back together after that catastrophic trip to Amsterdam when I was sixteen. There was no other way to excise or supplant the pain I felt inside, the sense of utter loss and degradation, the horror at my own memories and mind. Slicing strips out of my own skin was strong, decisive, painful, and hugely distracting. You can bleed out the pain for a while. It doesn’t work for long though. Long term I needed more substantial fixing.
Nearly twenty years later I am a different person, though I remember feeling that way. I still consider the freedom of a razor blade. Some short sharp pain that lingers and draws out the suffering. I choose not to indulge. I know it’s an indulgence, I know it’s a distraction. It’s also a way of not dealing with information. We can’t always choose how we respond, and I know that when I’m tired – either physically or emotionally, when frustrated by failures or by others, what my mind turns to first is that it could all just be over. I could just not be here, and it wouldn’t matter what is happening anymore. I wouldn’t need to choose, to argue it out and fix it. I could just step away, off this mortal plane and nothing would ever concern me again. It would just… stop. All of it: the noise, the feeling, the colours, me.
I think about dying when it is not of my choosing. Accident, cars, fire; being broken and just dying. Dying alone. I’ve always felt that I’ll die alone somehow. But I can’t imagine the world without me. I don’t mean that ‘I’m just so damn important that it just won’t make sense’, I mean that I can’t conceive of the world when it’s not from my perspective. The whole of reality is intimately bound up with existing. When we go to sleep the world may as well stop for all we are connected to it. When we die, the world presumably goes on through others eyes, but that’s not the same world.
Why so gloomy today? I don’t feel gloomy, just a little sad and emotional. We went to see Gravity which is pretty much as good as everyone is saying that it is. I found it frightening and deeply upsetting – I guess the prospect of dying utterly alone struck a chord rather violently. Oddly, the film’s outcome didn’t make me feel less horrified but rather more appalled and filled with tears. Strange.
We saw Gravity on Monday and I wrote this immediately afterwards, but it didn’t feel like something I wanted to post right away. It’s later in the week now, and I’m less gloom-filled, which is nice.