I Don't Understand People Who Never Think About Suicide

Photo: courtesy of the author
suicidal thoughts

I suppose you have to preempt anything written about suicide with the twin caveats that: A) I’m not suicidal, and B) I’m not looking for pity. That said, I find myself thinking about suicide and suicidal thoughts a lot — possibly to an unhealthy degree.

Who’s to say what’s healthy when contemplating the big, big questions about life, death, meaning and legacy? Psychologists, evidently. And most of the people I’m close to, it appears.

RELATED: Powerful Photos Of People Contemplating Suicide Prove Depression Has No Face

I have a hard time trusting the problem-solving skills of people who don’t think about suicide. It’s a solution to almost any problem, albeit a terrible one, that creates its own set up problems like not ever finding out what happens in season 3 of The Good Place.

Suicide came up in the tail-end of a highly under-informed conversation I was having on the twin topics of mass homicide and gun control. My only meaningful contribution was a fact I’d recently read from an interesting article from FiveThirtyEight: you could divide all of the gun deaths in America into two roughly equal groups: white male suicides and every other gun death combined.

After an independent fact-check (trust but verify, y’all), the conversation swung to “Why?”

I’m sure experts will have a much better-crafted theory, but my guess is that there are a lot of white men (seriously, check out any Las Vegas-based UFC event or a Brooks Brothers sale), they own a lot of guns, and men of any pigmentation seem prone to impulsive and violent acts. Policemen end up shooting themselves much more often than the general population, for instance.

Irrespective of the particular and possibly unknowable “why,” the friend confessed he’d never thought about suicide outside of high profile instances: Robin Williams, Chester Bennington, Don Cornelius, stock car racing legend Dick Trickle. We were mutually nonplused. It was as if we both said we’d never look at "adult content," and “Really?” “Never?” and “Bulls***” are the only possible responses there.

A couple of laps around the old “Seriously? You’re being serious right now? Like, for real?” tree and we were both back to “Huh?” I’m a generally upbeat character — though moody, if you ask any woman in my life — and he’s a fairly introspective guy. A couple of gulps of beer later, we transitioned to a more palatable topic: whether you’re more of a misogynist for liking or disliking women’s Mixed Martial Arts (MMA.)

But back to the main thread. (Note: I’m not suicidal and I’m not interested in your pity.) This perhaps gives away the plot, but my family has been on the business end of a couple of devastating suicides. The biggest single event in my life involved a cousin hanging himself in our garage when I was 16. He was roughly my age now (38) and, in retrospect, its outsized impact is a likely sign I’ve lived a fairly charmed life. The second and far more tragic suicide involved a teen cousin, and it’s still fresh to the point that it’s oozing exudate.

I once thought of the act of committing suicide was the most cowardly, selfish and cruel thing a person could do to his or her family. (I appreciate that some mental health professionals object to the idiom “commit suicide” as it makes it seem like a crime; however, there’s really not a bigger commitment as killing yourself lasts forever.) Now I’m not sure.

RELATED: The Beautiful Way Chester Bennington’s Wife Talinda Is Reaching Out To Linkin Park Fans Struggling With Depression And Suicidal Thoughts To #MakeChesterProud

For as much time as I’ve spent contemplating suicide (topically, not while listening to The Smiths and swallowing razors), I’ve drawn practically zero concrete conclusions beyond killing yourself is bad ... except when it isn’t.

It’s considered an abhorrent act because we evolved with survival (and perhaps paradoxically, the avoidance of that which is painful) as our only true instinct(s). And to witness someone contravening that instinct is terrifying. To bite a line from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, vertigo isn’t the fear of falling but the fear of being compelled to throw yourself off of something. I suppose that could be part of the romanticism — the macabre.

Although, there’s much more to it. We learn at some point that life is a death sentence; however, we don’t believe it will happen to us despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary. I’m sure a developmental psychologist would characterize that journey as the fundamental process of maturation.

Most of our activity is built around delaying death (like, you know, eating food) and taking our mind off the fact that it’s inevitable (like, you know, 100 percent of the things you do on your phone that don’t involve Seamless). The idea that you could take all of the variability and guesswork out of life can likely be incredibly romantic fixation to people with a predilection to overthink everything.

You’d guess that certitude — one true thing — in a world of uncertainty would appeal to those who are most impressionable. That’s why it can spread "memetically" (check out this article about Robin Williams for more about that phenomenon). A literal worst nightmare for family and friends. It goes from something only in abstract to a real thing that can be done by virtually anyone.

It’s critically important in the wake of tragedies to get care and attention to at-risk people, especially those who are thinking about suicide and have suicidal thoughts. The entire state of Minnesota has a single suicide hotline and it’s so dangerously underfunded that it’s running the risk of going out of business. (Here’s a link if you’re interested in supporting it. Sincerely, $20 may help save a life.)

I suppose, fundamentally, a number of our thought patterns and values systems (politics, feelings about the designated hitter, religion) are formed without our express permission and generally before we’re old enough to star in a Quinceañera. And some of those experiences become tied to identity in a way that creates a micro-tribe, possibly a tribe of one, an implicit other-ing.

This alienation coupled with even minor trauma can drive young people especially to incredibly impulsive and destructive actions.

At any rate, this isn’t a cry for help. I guess it’s a recognition that my particular stresses probably shouldn’t keep other people up at night. And for sure I could be somewhat more patient when someone doesn’t understand my traumas as I do the same for them. I don’t think either of us is lying.

RELATED: 21 Brave People Reveal What Life Is Like After Attempting Suicide

Tom Miller is a writer and performer based in New York. He's been a mechanical engineer and a banker. He's been the general manager and coordinating video producer at YourTango for 12 years. He's probably listening to Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" as we speak.