On Being Suicidal and an Atheist

Content note: depression, suicide, self-harm

A note to my friends and family: 
Before I even begin, let me just put it out there that I have been borderline suicidal in the recent past. However, there is a wooorld of difference between having suicidal thoughts and attempting suicide, or even executing some form of self-harm. I have come close, but not actually hurt myself since six years ago. As such, I ask that you not overreact to the content of this post and contact me frantically about how concerned you are. I also respectfully command that you not contact doctors or police or my husband to have me watched or controlled from those behaviours. I am fine. And anyway, if I genuinely want to die, that’s my business and my right. I understand the troubling nature of this writing, but please remain calm.

Having depression is a bitch. It’s a difficult illness to cope with, it’s difficult to live with, it plagues most of your thoughts and decisions if you aren’t careful. It’s only been fairly recently that I’ve been able to look at my depression with a skeptical eye, thanks to the writings of Miri Mogilevsky and Greta Christina. Greta especially is excellent at viewing her depressive thoughts skeptically and being able to override her emotions with logic. I aspire to be that good at depression-defeat.

With depression, there’s always a chance of feeling tendencies toward self-harm or suicide. This is true of a lot of mental illnesses. There are a lot of differing reasons one would have a propensity for self-harm; for me it’s sometimes about hurting as much outside as I do inside, or using the endorphins as a pain killer (here I mean ‘pain’ in both the physical and emotional sense), or taking control, or punishing myself. It takes different forms.

The idea of suicide for me is not usually about actively wanting to die. At least, when I’m thinking of it in a more immediate sense. By that, I mean that if I’m not caught by an ailment or an accident, I may very well choose to die at some point in my old age. When I’m suicidal in an immediate sense, it’s usually when I’m totally overwhelmed by whatever bad thing I’m feeling and I want it to Just Stop, as JT mentioned in his mental illness talk at Skeptics of Oz. It’s very often a matter of feeling like the things in your head are too big to continue to bear, like you can’t go on another minute feeling that way.

Sometimes I joke that I could use a week-long coma. Sometimes it’s not a joke.

Pretty often, I wish I had an ‘off’ button.

And there are some times that when I’m thinking about suicide, it is about an active desire to die. “If I die, everyone I know will be really upset, but then they’ll be able to move on and I can stop hurting people.” The worst thing on my spectrum of feeling bad is the idea that I’m a horriblehorrible person who inflicts nothing but agony on others, that the people who love me are masochistic fools. This makes me want to go away forever.

I’ve been an atheist for about eight years now, longer than my depression has been around. So every time I’ve contemplated suicide, it’s been with the knowledge and intent that I will cease to exist in any cognitive form. There isn’t an afterlife waiting for me, I won’t reincarnate. I’ll just die, and then it’ll be over. I would never be able to think again. The people who would lose me would lose me forever, even the ones who think I’d be somehow still present and aware after my biological end.

No afterlife, no reincarnation, no more thought or feeling. All my goals gone in a last sigh of breath. All the years I could have spent making the world better, gone with the last neuron firing.

It’s typically the loss of potential that stops or mitigates the thought process. Obviously there are people who care about me, who I care about, and it would matter to me that they would experience pain at the loss. But humans are humans, some of them would be permanently altered and affected by my death, and all of them would eventually make peace with it or forget. Life would continue for them, just without me in it (or anywhere).

In terms of self-harm, the people around me are the main thing that keeps me from doing it. There have been several times recently that it was a very very good thing I was at work and not at home, because I would almost definitely have hurt myself. If I were to do that, I think the resulting drama and fights and having to witness the pain of the people who know me well enough to know it was self-inflicted and not whatever excuse I gave would be way disproportionately too much to deal with compared to the satisfaction gained from the initial hurting of myself. And there would be no way to hide it completely, at the very least Degon would know about it. (Due to the frequency of our overlapping nakedness.)

Me hurting myself would hurt other people, and that’s one of the things I try really hard to avoid. It would make me feel overwhelmingly worse to witness that pain.

As an atheist who subscribes to the belief that life is rare and valuable in our vast universe, suicide also becomes an issue of being intentionally wasteful. Essentially, my life is a remarkable happenstance, it will only happen once, no organism exactly like me will ever exist again. It makes sense to utilise that time to its fullest extent and to appreciate how immensely improbable it is that I exist in the first place, much less have the ability to contemplate that existence within the framework of the universe.

Random thought: My brain is complex enough to have a small defect which affects but does not kill me. The chances? Incredibly minute. Gotta love big numbers.

So yeah, just wanted to share those thoughts with you guys. Again, there’s not a substantial risk of me hurting myself or ending up hospitalized or anything. I think the rational reasons to not hurt myself or die will continue to outweigh the emotions behind the desire for a good long while.

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