On Mortality

Recognition of mortality may appear in several ways.  One may openly acknowledge and contemplate it.  Another may deny, dismiss, or ignore its presence.  An overarching phenomenon occurrent in the previous two scenarios is the presence of either peace or fear.  We all die; this is a irrefutable fact known to all humans.  Unique to each individual is how we die and how each of us wishes to view death and the surrounding issues of mortality.  Peace may be found in spirituality or the simple reconciliation of knowing life ends and the potential belief in the presence or absence of an existence after death.  Fear results both in the presence of certitude and unknowingness.  Though a spiritual teaching may promise life eternal after death, how do we know in sureness what form or presence in which we will exist?  Or rather, if we are entirely unknowing or unsure if there is anything following death, is fear not a rational emotional response?

We pass through our everyday lives in the throes of the myriad of challenges and rewards life affords those privileged to partake.  Many times we drive our proverbial cars on a smooth road, though it be afflicted with numerous turns, diversions, and switchbacks.  Death and mortality are not in the forefronts of our minds until we hit that depression in the pavement, that pothole, or that speed bump that manifests as the telling of a suicide or murder in a local newspaper; the child who died from a several-years-long battle with leukemia; your grandmother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease; a personal diagnosis or condition that calls you to face your own mortality.  Then mortality appears in the mind as if projected on a movie screen and one is a passive audience member, unable to control the mechanisms of the theater projecting the film.  It is accosting, loud, all-encompassing, impossible to ignore or deny in existence.  The movie plays for some time, but like all movies, it ends, and you exit the theater.  Exiting does not occur in identical ways for each individual.  Some exit in fear.  Some exit in understanding and growth.  Some exit in peace, and some exit in a state of reconciliation.

How we exit is of importance and a determiner of how we approach both future dances with reminders of mortality and our own inevitable death.  Should we continually exit in fear, how poor the quality of life must become.  Life becomes synonymous with fear, and implemented is a continual clock counting down the hours, minutes, seconds, to the ultimate demise.  Should we approach mortality with some form of acceptance and peace, the very fabric of life changes.  Burlap becomes satin and silk.  We are not tripping on cords of hemp, but rather allowing threads to combine and weave in a way pleasant and effortless.  Let us drop the rope, relinquish our battle with mortality, for how much greater purpose can be added to life if we live outside the lines of combat and fear, and instead contemplate the gifts inherent in our given existence.

Wanting to Die

The voices first started during the summer of my fourteenth year.  I was training heavily to run cross-country in high school in the coming fall, and as I traversed the Calabasas mountains, I remember a soundtrack beginning to appear.  I slowly gained awareness to the preludes and waltzes of Bach, Vivaldi, Chopin, all playing audibly within my ears.  No, this was not strange.  Not in the least.  In fact, I appraised it to be entirely normal.  I would run listening to the Four Seasons, the crescendos and decrescendos rising and falling with the hills I was climbing and descending.  The music was not threatening, but rather became an inherent part of my existence that summer.

Light turned to dark as the summer ended and I entered the first month to two months of ninth grade.  The music disappeared and was replaced by something far more sinister, far more malicious.  Where choirs once sang praises, now were the odes of death.  I could both hear and see my mind telling me to kill myself, showing me the ways in which I must do it.  Images of blood and pills flooded my mind and my awareness in an all-consuming fashion.  I became disconnected from the world, a floating entity whose strings lay cut far from the earth.  I picked and tore at my skin until it bled and scabbed and sliced the skin on my arms with anything I could find – glass, tile, shards of metal, razor blades.  My mind wished for me to die, and I was willing to do the bidding.  

The above depiction was one of my first experiences battling suicidal thoughts and ideation, and certainly not my last.  I still struggle to this day – to this moment – with intrusive thoughts, at the least, and intent plans at the most.  People question how one can contemplate the taking of one’s life or complete the action itself when he or she has what society holds to be the pinnacles of happiness – ample financial holdings, supportive family/friends, a strong faith base, and, in some cases, fame and stature, etc.  This question arose with the death of Robin Williams.  He seemingly had everything the world could offer, yet was unable to find the will to live.  This questioning – this mindset – induces feelings of guilt in those contemplating suicide, as they cannot reconcile the simultaneous existence of their dark emotions and the presence of pinnacles of happiness in their lives, and it also perpetuates the carried notion of the selfish nature of suicide.  

I often return to the quote of Thomas Browne declaring, “It is a brave act to despise death; but where life is more terrible than death, it is then the truest valor to dare to live.”  Wanting to die is a complex desire, a complex state of existence.  At times, it is my darkest enemy, and at other times my closest friend.  It becomes either a struggle to which I fight valiantly or a desire to which I longingly wish to acquiesce, deeply ruminating the possibilities within my mind like fingering a smooth, iridescent pearl between my thumb and pointer finger.  It is hard to articulate why my mind vacillates between wanting to fight and wanting to relinquish all power, but perhaps it can be best described as a longing to be free, an intense desire to rest.  My illness depletes my energy and wreaks havoc upon my body and mind relentlessly and mercilessly, leaving me incapacitated and dry.

In a recent conversation with my psychiatrist, she pointed out the degree to which I have become desensitized to suicide as a result of my years of battling contemplation and urges.  It no longer jars me to think about or see an image within my mind of me cutting my wrist and the blood flowing copiously, or swallowing a bottle of pills or stepping in front of a car.  She described a past patient of hers as the owner of a car dealership.  He would constantly and insistently talk about and describe his suicidal desires and plans with seemingly little emotional attachment.  On one occasion she challenged him: would he take a hammer to one of the new models on the lot?  He was repulsed and offered a resounding no.  She then asked, why would you do so to yourself?

What has jarred me was a conversation with a family member I had a few weeks ago.  This family member expressed openly that she knows she will probably lose me one day to suicide – that I will just be so tired of fighting and long to finally rest.  Hearing this put a pin through my heart, stole my breath but just for a moment.  I realized I truly would be gone and the repercussions my act would have upon my family members and those who love me.  To this I am not desensitized.  It shed a different light on the intrusive thoughts that have plagued me for so long.  

Though the nature of my illness dictates that I will likely continue to battle suicidal thoughts and urges, I know I must find a way to be free, to rest, within this world.  My desensitization to my suicidal thoughts has resulted in a disconnect between the way I view death by suicide and the result of the act of suicide itself – its definitiveness and finality.  My longing for rest and freedom does not have to equate death and the exit from this physical plane.  Challenging my thoughts is, and will be, of utmost difficulty, but I must show my strength and persist through the darkness, for I have yet to fully realize my purpose as a human being on this earth.