Saturday, April 27, 2013

H.P. Lovecraft Furnishes Us With a Good Reason Not To Commit Suicide

It may seem strange to most people that one would need a reason not to commit suicide, but there are those of us out there who need one. To some, knowing that the self checkout lane is open is actually a consolation. Hunter S. Thompson said "If I didn't know I could commit suicide at any moment, life would be unbearable". Of course, there are many reasons not to kill yourself. ' This Too Shall Pass' is the protective motto of those traversing the Territory of the blackest mind. The transitory nature of everything is reason enough to see if you can ride it out when it comes to depressed states, mixed states, and plain old bad luck.

Far be it from me to suggest such a thing is easy. As a person with manic depression, I understand how the poisoned mind can laugh at our stoic bearings. Far be it from me also to suggest that there is anything inherently evil, selfish, or wrong about suicide. Sometimes, suicide is in fact a reasonable choice. Some choose to end their lives rather than experience prolonged pain and suffering connected to a chronic illness. I understand this choice, and would probably choose it for myself if it ever seemed necessary. Also, suicide is often committed by people with mental health issues, such as myself. They do this while in the grips of a disease, and faulting a person who kills themselves in such a state is akin to faulting a person with a heart disorder for dying of a heart attack.

One of the ways people such as myself manage to survive is to remind ourselves of the transitory nature of our suffering. Another is to participate in therapy or counseling. Another is to take medication that is appropriate to our illness, exercise, eat healthy, and get good rest. Another way that has benefited me is to seek out folks who share my experience and struggle, and to empathize with them and learn from their hard won wisdom (all wisdom is hard won, isn't it?).

That brings me to the excerpt I wanted to share with you. I am a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan. I love his stories, but what I am coming to love even more than his stories are his letters. He was a great letter writer, and in the below excerpt he talks about a time he seriously considered suicide, and how he navigated his way back out of it:
"How easy it would be to wade out among the rushes and lie face down in the warm water till oblivion came. There would be a certain gurgling or choking unpleasantness at first--but it would soon be over. Then the long, peaceful night of non-existence..."
But something held him up:
"And yet certain elements--notably scientific curiosity and a sense of world drama--held me back. Much in the universe baffled me, yet I knew I could pry the answer out of books if I lived and studied longer. Geology, for example. Just how did these ancient sediments and stratifications get crystallized and upheaved into granite peaks? Geography--just what would Scott and Shackleton and Borchgrevink find in the great white Antarctic or their next expeditions...which I could--if I wished--live to see described?"
Lovecraft goes through questions about history, Africa, Mathematics, and other intellectual curiosities that he would miss out on if he snuffed himself out, ultimately concluding,
"So in the end I decided to postpone my exit till the following summer. I would do a little curiosity-satisfying at first; filling certain gaps of scientific and historical knowledge, and attaining a greater sense of completeness before merging with the infinite blackness."
after finding himself engaged in life to a much greater degree on this path of postponement--starting up an old newsletter, finding more questions at the ends of questions answered--he decided to grant himself another extension:
"Possibly I would wait til '06 before making my exit...one could drown in '06 just as well as in '05 or '04!'
Questions of life and death and meaning popped up over and over again in Lovecraft's life--he kept a cyanide pill on his person at all times just in case 'it ever got too much'--but he found his way through that particular darkness with the aid of curiosity.

Curiosity is a fine reason to go on living. I had just discovered Billy Collins a little bit before the suicide of a dear friend several years back, and was very excited to share it with him the next time he was in town. Before I had a chance to do that, he had jumped off an overpass in Tennessee. Not far after all of the other assorted kinds of thoughts a person has after receiving such news, it occurred to me that my friend would never get to experience Billy Collins. My friend--a highly intelligent, clever, soulful person--had missed out on something I was pretty sure he would have liked.

I am always discovering new things. Life is about change and possibility, and who knows what is waiting for us in the future? It's a compelling reason to stick around.

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This essay will appear in my book 'Everything In the Medicine Cabinet Has Expired', to be released on Friday, May 3rd.
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2 comments:

Christian Thompson said...

It's especially refreshing to read a shared view that doesn't instantly recoil in fear at the thought of suicide. I find it empowering to have the choice and immature to dismiss the choice. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a small list of neuroscience articles that I've tagged for reading, a few episodes of RadioLab to catch up on, and I want to learn to Tuvan throat sing.

the elegant ape said...

I'm gettin my copy on the third...