If you landed here searching for the 1987 movie Fatal Attraction, I must disappoint you. This is not about that movie. This is about a much more dangerous, fatal kind of attraction: the attractiveness of death.
Even the best suicide prevention experts do not always fully grasp how very attractive, seductive a suicide decision can feel. Attractive enough, in fact, to think you don’t need any help. Let me illustrate this with a part of my own story.
Two years ago, I tried to kill myself for the second time. Unlike the first time some years before, my depression was also trauma-related. One of my very best friends, who suffered from bipolar depression, had hung herself a few months before. So on top of my habitual depressions, I felt not just an unbearable loss and disorientation, but also intense guilt for not having seen it coming, for not having been able to help her. I suppose that I also developed a subconscious longing to follow her, to join her, to be her companion in death.
In the weeks when I was still pondering my decision, I – unwisely – saw no need to bother anyone with what I thought were my own personal feelings. I really felt this was something I had to find a way out for myself, because no one else could feel or share the utter desperation I felt at the time.
Therefore I thought that trying to discuss it with others would be asking far too much from them, burdening them with troubles they wouldn’t even understand. At the same time I assumed that their advice would be completely irrelevant and useless to me.
Death, in my muddled state, became some kind of masked ghost continuously dancing through my mind, threatening but also, I don’t know how to put this, elegant in its finality. A dancing, recurring ghost that at first was still surely fearsome but became ever more charming, alluring, enticing, seducing, promising. To say this in a weird way: almost sexy. Gradually, I got convinced that Death now was a friend. The only one left who could help me.
Once I had decided I would indeed kill myself, my tormented mood changed into one of strange peace, calm, and resolution. In that state, I gave not a single thought to the possibility of asking someone for help or advice. I no longer needed help of whatever kind. Why should I call others to tell them I was going to do what I was going to do anyway? I wanted and longed to do it, to meet my friend Death, and I did not want anyone to interfere with that.
So during the entire process I simply did not see the need to call anyone, to ask someone for help. After my decision I got myself a stack of tranquillizers, a dose that according to online info should be lethal. I sat down, thought carefully about my decision one more time, overcame my last shiver of fear, and resolutely washed down the pills with whiskey and beer.
I confess I will never forget the immense relief once this was done, the acceptance and almost happy ease of letting-go, the great peacefulness of those last moments before gliding away into what I thought would be irreversible and eternal unconsciousness. It finally was out of my hands. I would feel no more. Be no more.
When in the next days, slowly and very confused, I came to in the hospital it turned out that a friend – not Death but a real friend – had found me in coma on the floor and had me rushed to the emergency unit. Later on, people told me that the first thing I asked for when I got back my voice, was a cigarette.
Of course now I know I was just plain stupid. Blind to reality. Dizzied by compulsive thoughts. Unfortunately, this is what deep depression in many people will do.
I want to make very clear that all this certainty of mind, this relief, this peacefulness I told about, was nothing but a form of treacherous self-deception. It is the narrow, strong, compulsive focus of deep depression that cruelly lures us into this kind of self-deceiving, that makes such distorted and false emotions seem inviting, liberating and true. In hindsight – if you’re lucky enough to be allowed a hindsight – death is almost never a true solution.
In reality, death is not attractive. Death is ugly. It is only your depression that falsely makes death look less repulsive than life.
Maybe our suicide prevention initiatives still are just a little too gentle, too friendly. Sometimes I think we should do more to make suicidal people come to their senses.
Maybe we should try to unmask this seductive, false attraction of death in their minds with a little more brute force and directness. Maybe sometimes we should try to reinstall some natural, healthy fear and revulsion in depressed minds. By brusquely ripping away those seemingly elegant veils of that Death Dancer and exposing it for what it really is. Not a solution, not some kind of friend, no liberation, but a disaster. For you and for all the others in your life.
Do you really want to reduce yourself forever to some gray crumbling bones in a moldy damp coffin? Do you really want your family to stand shedding tears at your grave, and to keep crying for years to come?
These are the kind of things that perhaps we should drive home with a little more force, appealing to both primordial fears and leftover responsibility notions, hammering them through the distorting shield of depression that prevents people from facing such questions clearly.
This is of course just a personal, intuitive thought. I can imagine that professional psychologists and psychiatrists may see reasons to dismiss such a harsh “discouraging strategy” immediately. And I can also imagine that my reaction here may have been colored too much by my own personal experiences.
• tip: force yourself to call someone to help you if you feel suicidal. Try to do so especially if you feel a phone call will be pointless. For it is exactly that feeling that indicates you’re in the danger zone.
More in general, even though you may feel essentially alone and unable to communicate in your depression, still try and allow other people to keep in touch with you.
• note 1: If you think you saw this before, you’re right. This is a partial repost of Anti-Suicide App: Limited Solution.
It’s not my habit to repost things. But I felt this topic deserved a little more attention than being buried (pun not intended) within a post that was primarily about an anti-suicide phone app.
• note 2: Picture at the top: 3500-years-old golden Greek death mask, formerly believed to be of the mythical hero Agamemnon. It was found in 1876 in Mycene, over the skull of a dead warrior, and is now in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.