Friday, October 28, 2011

On Suicide and the Incredible Gift of Life

I couldn’t sleep and started reading a book I had recently ordered from the US. ‘The Longevity Project.’

I skipped the introduction and went straight to the chapters I was most curious about. The book is built on a life-span study of a large number of people that were born in the early 20th century. –on how they lived, how they thought and how they died. ‘Comprehensive’ is the word!

The book aims to find keys to a long and healthy life, but in the process it also deals with the negative image. Darkness of the mind, timidity, self pity and self destruction; early and violent deaths and the inevitable, suicide.

The book makes reference to a brilliant suicidologist, Dr. Shneidman. Dr. Shneidman did not think too highly about chemical instabilities in the brain as a general explanation to suicide, but was with staggering (and almost spooky) accuracy able to predict personality traits and thought patterns that would culminate in a self-staged goodbye. The chapter went on to describe poison-pills and people who blew their brains out; but also people who lived long and relatively happy lives with few regrets, and who’s only real regret was not to cease more opportunities while they had them.

1 a.m. in the morning this may not be the average choice literature, but whatever you think about it, it is very captivating. Many years ago it would have probably have scared me in the dark of the night, but this time around it’s different.

I have seen enough dark sides of life myself and also through others, to distinguish some of these patterns and personality traits when I come across them. Very briefly we could categorize suiciders into the emotionally motivated and the rationally motivated. There is always an element of emotion; and if we agree that action requires thought, one could even argue that there is also always a rational–or if you will–pseudorational precursor to a suicide.

I used to quarrel a lot years ago with people that claimed suicide to be fundamentally selfish. I still believe that ending yourself is so desperately destructive that one cannot talk about a general rule of self-enhancing selfishness, but with time I have managed to see become aware of some of the grey-zones. There are incidents when I believe a certain degree of selfishness can be claimed if you leave behind strong obligations you have chosen not to complete, but leave to others. But even in these situations the core element of the decision is usually not to pain someone else.

Emotional. Rational.

Emotional can be swift. Something happens and the consequences seems too dire. I heard about a guy who crashed a very expensive car his family owned, plus did a few other small things. His friend who heard the shot told me about it. I am sure his parents would rather want a messed-up son, than one who couldn’t face the bill and ended it. It is strictly not rational and the time-frame it all happened within confirms it. I would call it emotional.

The rational I find easier to understand the mechanics of. It–I believe–is more predictable. It poses as intellectual, but often isn’t. It is like highly selective reading to undergird a very subjective argument in an essay. I know a man who says: “you can always find evidence for what you believe in!” There’s an emotional direction to such thoughts, but the thoughts claim loud and clear: “My name is reason!”

What really struck me tonight was something new.

When you see through the fog you don’t know what the lines on the horizon are; hills, mountains, canyons, valleys? But if you stand there and study every little glimpse of light and shadow the fog gives up, your mind can eventually draw a map of the terrain ahead of you. I have done this myself, after sundown in the winter to match my surroundings to the map when I’ve been lost in the mountains. It works.

What could be more different than emotion and rationale? And do the two have anything in common in a dark and self-destructive mind? I think the fog has let go of so many glimpses of light by now that I’m starting to sense what’s out there. You survive long enough, you watch long enough, you pay attention long enough and you’ll start to see a face–a will. One very determined, tangible evil who once poses as emotion and other times as reason. Gripping the same fundamental weaknesses and lonely parts of the human soul–however different they are–and leading them to the very same place: Life => End, full stop.

Whatever potentials you had left just ran out.

As you start to see him your hair may rise, your pulse increase and fear may come upon you! But it shouldn’t. If you suddenly can distinguish enough of the mountain through the fog, you will know where you are on the map in an instant.

It is encouraging and reassuring! The long-living people in the control-group that were compared to the early suiciders had one regret; all the chances they did not take. The more I see the evil, the more tangible the devil becomes, and he loves hiding! But the stronger you see the shadow, the stronger you see the object who cast it and the light behind it.

Tonight, while not being able to sleep and randomly reading a book, I was reminded about the possibilities of life! –And how some of my own biggest regrets also were not taking more chances. –And that, if there’s a negative and dark image that imitates reason in your life, there’s an even greater God! –And that, when you chose to live, your hindsight will tell you in many years from now, that not living while living was a bigger crime than crashing cars, breaking up, being stupid, failing-while-trying and hoping for the best while the world came crashing down on your head.

15 years ago I spent a year in boarding school of a particular type we have in Scandinavia, while doing a backcountry and sports course. I was rather active. I led the student union, was steeply into the student politics of the school, used the dark-room regularly, sang in the choir, ran off to the nearest mountain for off-piste skiing whenever the snow was falling, had my own keys to the library to prepare work for the union… and distinctly remember regretting after the year was over–at age 17–not taking more chances and getting to know more people.

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