When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be. Or wonder who, after all, you are
– Ursula Le Guin, The Farthest Shore
I’ve been feeling it, recently. Feeling it in flickers, lights in a thunderstorm. Sometimes I’m drinking to drown it, smother that black and furious part of me. It’s not a perfect solution, I know that; but what is? Tell me what is, tell me what will make the thoughts… no, not thoughts, not feelings, more than that… tell me what will silence that black and furious part of me? Silence it swiftly, make the world warm again. Drinking isn’t a perfect solution but buddy if you can give me a better one please for the love of Christ tell me. Because right now it’s the best thing I’ve got.
So I’ve been feeling it, but only in flickers. The feeling of it troubles me, which is why I drink. It troubles me, and that’s good.
And I’ve not told anyone. Because why would I? Because what would they do, what could they do? They’d fret, and they’d panic, and they’d worry about talking to me because what do you say to the suicidal, how do you behave? We make people uncomfortable, I guess; like the way the dying do.
My flatmate – well, one of my ex flatmates – attempted suicide the other night. Blood and water everywhere, panic, ambulances. Cute paramedics. His head resting on my lap, mumbling. You slap and shout and make sure their heart’s still beating and hope they keep on breathing. Shallow, like. Faint. I’ve been at parties like this before, when things have gone wrong, got out of hand. Some parties aren’t worth it.
He went into hospital and he came out a few days later. Everyone was really shaken up by it, well what do you expect? Everyone was really shaken up by it apart from him and me.
Not this last time, but the first time – when I got out of the hospital, where I’d spent dreamy, boring days suspended above my life. I got out of hospital and it was weird, this world in which I didn’t belong. This world, sketched onto paper. Depth a cheap optical trick.
What sets humans apart from everything else isn’t reason. It’s stories. We tell stories to each other, tell stories which explain the world and explain each other. We tell stories to ourselves to explain ourselves, to explain our lives. The truth of them doesn’t matter so much to us. We just need something to hang on to, to let the world make sense.
I got out of hospital, after that strange limbo, and into a world which had carried on, after my story had ended, after the last act. The world was more real than me, and so felt fake. In Cotard’s delusion, the sufferer believes themselves to be dead, their insides dust, rotten, or hollow. So I experienced, I guess, inverted Cotard’s. The world all surface, the heart of it gone. Me, alone in a life I didn’t have further use for. Me, baffled that I was still walking, when I should have died. A character who’d outlived his story. Angry. Tired. Confused.
So people were shaken up. I guess it shakes people up. I guess people want to help, but they don’t know how. I guess people are worrying about all the what ifs. I guess people are feeling guilty that they didn’t stop it before it got to this point.
Or maybe the thought of it just freaks people out, like the thought of death.
We talk, munching on KFC, his arm inconveniently cast in plaster. We talk about boredom, and all the fuss people make. About how life can get too much, a party gone wrong. We talk about that strange upside-down Cotard’s. It’s good to talk. To talk to someone who has a hope of actually getting it. Everything else is just noise.
Like I say, everyone was shaken up apart from him and me. People who are shaken up are crap to talk with. They fret and they panic and much as they try, in their actions and behaviour they somehow make it about them. Like coming out for the umpteenth time, you’re mostly helping other people through their reactions.
And I can’t speak for everyone, or even anyone but myself, but I know that most people have never found themselves on the other side of suicide. So I know most people get shaken up, get frightened, get scared. So here’s my advice on how to deal, emotionally and conversationally, with suicidal friends:
Just carry on as normal. Just be.
We already know who we can confide in. Maybe you’re one of them. And if we want to talk about it, we will. But very possibly, we won’t. We have our own shit to be muddling though and while it’s great that you want to help, often the best way to do that is just be available without pressing the point.
And if we decide to confide all the swirling, angry, cold thoughts in our head – just listen. Don’t advise, don’t examine, don’t give your opinion unless it’s asked for. Because we’ve probably heard it all before. We’re probably tired of arguing the points, inside our head. Please for the love of God don’t make a drama from it, that’s the last thing we need.
That part of me still keeps flickering, inside. Not thoughts about methods or any kind of anguish or despair. Just cold calculation, weighing hearts and feathers, trying to assess the cost-benefit of life. And I’ve not told anyone, because why would I? What could they ever possibly say which I’d not heard or thought of before? What emotional appeal could they possibly make that I’ve not made to myself? Such appeals only drive guilt and fear and shame. I drink. Drinking warms me, silences that black, furious part of my soul.
‘Please don’t suffer in silence’ the adverts all say, and the twitter platitudes and articles that flood the internet after a high profile suicide. No one ever outlines what, exactly, talking is meant to do. Because when you’re faced with someone truly suicidal, believe me, they’ve considered all the points you might make.