Douglas Bastard's Rants of Rage

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This article was written on 25 May 2016, and is filled under Uncategorised.

On suicide

I wrote this a few years ago when I was in a significantly darker place than I am in now. It’s been resurrected by me dredging up fragments from saved documents and splicing them together with deleted sentences I still remember. While I can’t recapture the mindset I was in when it was first written, I’ve also come no closer to an answer to any of it, so the words are offered as an insight into my thought processes while I was in a very grim place indeed. What it emphatically isn’t is a blanket defence of suicide.

What I describe here involved a very specific individual at a very specific time. There is almost certainly information which I’m not party to that may have influenced his decision and what follows may quite easily be rose-tinted memory. Should you be struggling with mental health problems, call the Samaritans on 116 123 if you’re in the UK or email them on jo@samaritans.org. I did, and they saved my life, although it took a while and a lot of patience on their part.

When I was much, much younger, a person I knew killed himself. He killed himself before his graduation and after his finals because, as his explanatory note stated, he didn’t want his future life to be about compromises. He dreaded working at the bottom of some, faceless company, dreaded a possible life as a corporate drone and dreaded becoming just another person who had to move to London for work. As he explained, he had enjoyed the ride, but now chose to step off before it became dull and complicated.

While it would be tempting to write him off as someone who was troubled, his life seemed to make him happy. Instead, his decision seemed to have been arrived at as the end result of a process of quite careful thought. He had, of course, told nobody of his plans. Not his girlfriend, nor his friends, nor his parents. Instead, he chose a time when it was most propitious to do so and ended his life, stepping off the ride, as he said, before his life turned dull and prosaic.

I didn’t know this person well, but by all accounts, he was a good student with moments of brilliance, a supportive friend and someone who was generally enjoyable company. Being a well-balanced person at university is not easy, as there is excess all around you, but he seems to have kept it all at bay with a sort of good-humoured amusement which suggested that it was no more than a diverting entertainment, which seems like the best way to treat student idiocy, from politics to sports societies and everything in between.

And then, just as life seemed about to get tricky, and good-humoured amusement didn’t seem as though it might work, he just stopped. While I have been low enough such that suicide didn’t just seem like a possible outcome but an inevitability, I don’t get the feeling that his decision to alight before his stop came from the same source. At all. It looked, like I said earlier, a decision that had been arrived at in a calm and measured way, in which the options had been weighed up and he decided that the options he had in the future were nowhere near as good as those he had already enjoyed during his short life.

University, then, seems to have been a time when this person had drained his cup, had his fun and taken his bow. Much as I should abhor this, I can’t. At all. Instead, I feel a sort of admiration for his single-mindedness. And it’s there, nagging at my elbow, each time I look in the mirror. While he is eternally 21, trapped in a maddeningly handsome youth, I’m 43 and ageing by the hour. My face is slowly moving south, my hairline is moving back at a slow but steady pace and I’m starting to hear my knees crack when I get up in the morning. I’m getting old, in short, and he isn’t.

The thing he feared most, which was making compromises, has happened to me in abundance. Each time I’ve laughed at a joke that wasn’t funny to try and get a commission, written something I didn’t believe in or generally whored myself out for money when scruples might have suggested that I did otherwise, I’ve engaged in exactly the kind of compromise that he had no truck with. And if his ghost laughs at me when I look in the mirror, then it was probably turning aside and being sick in those moments. Perhaps during those times, his shade buggers off and finds someone who hasn’t eaten his principles piece by piece, but he’s back again, just as soon as I look in the mirror at my ageing face.

His death, just in case it sounds like I’m romanticising it, had some legacies. His parents never came to terms with their son’s decision. To them, they had sent him off to university as a bright and cheerful boy and then they had found themselves returning three years later to identify his body. No parent deserves to bury their child and I have no idea of the heartbreak they must have gone through in subsequent years. Thinking about how they might have cleared the room he lived in in their house, if they ever did, is enough to produce a kind of dull ache, and the idea of a life packed up and set aside in quiet cardboard boxes seems monstrous.

Again, what has girlfriend must have gone through, I don’t know, either. She was bright and vivacious and clever and funny. What it means to be 21 and to find that the person you thought truly ‘got’ you has been keeping a secret from you, and that secret is that he plans to take his own life, I can’t guess at. Writing this now, it perhaps seems like a kind of treachery or a betrayal of everything you thought you had together. Someone who chooses death rather than a life with you is a very, very bitter thing.

So at least three lives were irrevocably altered, for the worse, by his death. But if this is the sole reason for our continued existence, that others would be saddened by our death, it seems to be a rather motley argument for our existence. When I was considering suicide, quite actively, I was in pain for every second, of every minute of every hour that I was awake. To elongate such a life would seem perverse. There is no evidence that he was in similar pain, but I don’t know that his choice shouldn’t be respected, even if that is one of the conceits of not knowing him well. I’m far enough removed to see this academically. His parents and his girlfriend don’t have the same luxury.

And there, this needs to rest, if only because it can find no resolution. It’s just a thought that chases itself around my brain, particularly now as the day ends and we’re in darkness. Tomorrow, he’ll be there again, maddeningly young, and I will be one day older.

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