Released on May 12, 2019, this is another heavy one. It deals with my own experience contemplating suicide, what I managed to glean from it, and it does have a happy ending!
Ever have one of those days? Or maybe even a string of them? A week? A month? A year? More? With the amount of play that mental health has been getting on social media and in general lately, I would not be surprised to learn that every single one of you reading this right now has gotten the blues from time to time. I, myself, am just getting past the post-book launch hangover associated with releasing The Yoga of Strength out into the world.
In my younger years, I used to let these feelings consume me. Rather than looking at life as a cycle and appreciating even the dark feelings for what they are, I saw sadness as the inescapable ‘most-of-the-time’ rule. Life was a one-way path into darkness, with perhaps a few pockets of light, followed by a trip out into oblivion, courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood Grim Reaper. I was deeply unhappy, and it showed up everywhere in my reality.
Perhaps not unrelatedly, I felt like I had no purpose. My raison d’être (literally ‘reason for being’) was insignificance. I dabbled in nihilism. I could not sense any kind of grander meaning for my life. If I was lucky, I would get rich, stop working, have a bunch of meaningless sex with attractive people, and be as comfortable as possible all the while. I essentially wanted to live in a fantasy world, one where my pleasures and whims were served, and the real world did not match this fantasy I had in my head (it did eventually match a fantasy I did not have in my head – one far more interesting, as it happens). And so, the melancholy.
Sadness is one thing, but depression is a hell of a time. When the clouds just won’t lift as the days and weeks and months build up, it becomes easy to slip into a position of not caring. And it makes sense: if all you are ever going to do is feel shitty about everything, have no energy, and contemplate ending the story early, what the hell is the point of it all?
If you speak to a mystic in the Hindu or Buddhist tradition, they might tell you a story about a soul that has to reincarnate over countless generations, getting ‘better’ at life until you are purified, all so that you can rejoin God and not be reborn. This is a tantalizing notion, the idea that you can improve your lot by doing good. And you can, to a degree. But this idea leaves out one tiny yet enormous detail: if we are all God trying to find itself again, why the hell did we ever leave our Self in the first place?
I have spoken about this at length in some of my other Reflections, particularly Maya & Lila. But what I think is difficult to accept for most people is the truth of the notion that there is nothing that we are ‘supposed’ to do. We have choices, none wrong or right, though not without consequence. Every life is unique. Every person has unique gifts to bring to the world, and every person has their own path to walk. While, from one perspective, it might be a comforting notion, the idea that we are returning to God at some point in the future, fails to account for the only thing we ever really have: right now, the present moment.
Alan Watts once said, “The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.” In the quote from Joseph Campbell I put in at the beginning of this essay, he gets at the same notion in a different way. You might be thinking: this is nihilism dressed up in a different set of clothes. The dinner jacket and the slacks might be different, but it is the same alienating idea underneath the stitching. Well, no. But it can be interpreted more ways than one.
When you are depressed, if someone offered you this particular nugget of wisdom, you might slide deeper into your depression. If the meaning of life is to be alive, and life sucks as badly as it does, then why the hell shouldn’t we all just end it? Jonestown, en masse, across the globe.
I had thoughts like that in my darkest moments. I have not really spoken about it before, at least not to more than a select few, but in my twenties, I contemplated suicide. I had it all planned out: how I would do it, how I would trick people so that they wouldn’t know and try to stop me. I never really took any steps to do so, but I made my way down to the very bottom of my pit. I am very grateful that my rock bottom was so shallow compared to others who suffer in the way that I did, and whenever I hear of someone committing suicide, part of me thinks, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I’ve thrown a few quotes at you, and I will offer you a few more. Carl Jung said, “no tree, it is said, can reach the heavens, unless its roots reach down to hell.” In terms of my own experience, I certainly agree with that. It was during that period of intense melancholy that I finally made the decision that I can trace back to seeing me come so far into a positive frame of mind.
You see, in those moments, the deepest I ever got can be described as this: utter, terrible loneliness. The ninth level of hell is the sensation of being completely alone, to a degree that I never thought possible. It was the worst misery a human being can experience: I am certain of that. I am also certain that this is what people who die by suicide feel. It is worthy of every bit of compassion each and every one of us can muster. As for the grace thing? Well, by the grace of the God that I had long denied, I got a second chance.
And the very first thing I did was give my sister the most meaningful hug of my life. She probably thinks, to this day, that I was just being my crazy emotional self at the time, but it was very much that. I had looked into the abyss, saw it stare back, and I managed to survive. I pledged from that moment forward that I would never contemplate leaving this world again. I made a promise to myself: I would not give up on my dreams.
Principal among those dreams? Writing. My road to recovery began when I booted up my laptop and just started writing about my experiences. Much of it was deeply personal and actually quite frightening to me when I read it. But I kept at it, eventually picking up On Writing by Stephen King and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. King taught me the nuts and bolts of how to write, Pressfield told me that what I experienced on my road to perdition was exactly the boot in the arse that I needed. I had suffered in the way that I had because I did not think my life had meaning. But it wasn’t just going to be handed to me. I had to be the one to give it meaning: through blood, sweat, and tears. There was work to be done, and it was not going to be easy. My job? To express whatever the hell it was that was urging me on, rewarding me with a clear conscience when I acted with enough grit to stay the course and dealing me pain when I gave in to laziness. Some people call this drive God or the Muse or the creator spirit, I call it the true Self. And I was to become its pen. But first I had to hone my skills.
In my early days, I had always assumed art was the product of the mind, some kind of calculated thing that is put together on purpose by a human being that thinks itself quite clever. Well, certainly bad art is made that way. But the good stuff, the kind we appreciate, has more in common with midwifery or giving birth than it does with logical ruminations. I was to come to understand that the best artists are the ones that are masters at letting go. The way Ray Bradbury put it? ‘Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity.’
I digress. The road was bumpy, with all kind of setbacks and despair (whenever I gave into the base urge not to write), but that switch that had flipped in me would not be flipped back. I never went as low again, and I rose higher than I thought was even possible. I had finally found my meaning.
It would take a few more years before I developed a purpose, but hey, we all have to start somewhere.