My uncle Arthur shot himself in 1945 with a German service rifle he’d, somewhat improbably, smuggled back from the war and stashed under his bed in Ealing.
He was 31. My dad, Arthur’s younger brother, never got over it. His parents and two elder brothers probably didn’t either. But they were older and closer to each other. They didn’t seem quite as lost and dazed for the rest of their lives as my father did.
Half a century later, a second-cousin of my father killed himself when he was about 65. I only found out about it a year or two later. It seemed to catch his family off guard. He’d run his own business successfully enough and was (materially, at least) set up for a comfortable retirement.
As it happens, rarely does a day go by when I don’t visualise myself committing suicide in one way or another. I don’t fear death and don’t particularly enjoy life. It’s just part of my make up.
The chances of me acting on these detailed imaginings are fairly remote. Even so, I wouldn’t permit myself ready access to a spur-of-the-moment device like a handgun, even if that were legal where I live.
Nevertheless, a few years ago I decided that I’ll top myself when I’m in my mid-to-late sixties: which was 10-12 years away at the time. I reckon I’ll have earned it by then.
It was a surprisingly easy decision to make, and I immediately felt better about life. You should understand that, apart from ongoing low-level depression, I’m fairly fit for my age. I cycle a lot (the one thing I really enjoy), work for myself and am financially secure in the medium term: no debts, comfortable lifestyle.
However, I’m having to review my ‘suicide goal’ decision. That’s why I’ve chosen the topic for this entry.
Even though I’m more than happy to go gentle into that good night, I still have to wake up every morning between now and when I step off the wheel of life. And, having risen, I have to work and relate to people and so on.
Of course there’s a paradox here. If the main thing that makes living bearable is the knowledge that I’ve set a self-imposed limit on its duration, where’s the reason for striving in the meantime?
Well, the children, obviously. They’re in their early teens. Other family and friends. Valid reasons for carrying on, although surely the reason for living is to enjoy life, not because to do otherwise might upset other people.
I’m relaxed about the idea that I’m fundamentally just a set of selfish genes – in which case, with four offspring I’ve more than achieved my purpose in life. But being human is so much more complicated than that.
Setting an approximate future date for my departure is limiting my capacity to function in the present. It’s like feeling the paralysis of mind and will that I used to get when extra-depressed, but without the accompanying anxiety.
Anxiety-depression is utterly miserable. It makes people commit suicide to escape it even though they otherwise want to live long and fulfilling lives. It’s wonderful not to have been through it for 10 years. If ‘looking forward’ to offing myself helps, then it’s worth it to a great extent.
But there is still the mental paralysis. Planning and organisation are difficult because there’s no inner energy to work with. The worst of it is the almost total inability to write anything. That’s serious because it’s how I earn a living. My clients can’t afford to put up with non-service for very long.
So, to play around with Dylan Thomas a bit, let’s imagine that he was talking about creativity as life and vice versa. That creativity is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower and creativity’s dying is what we should rage, rage against.
To give up on life is to give up on creativity. To extinguish the fuse and let wither the flower. Is that right? It seems that I cannot have it both ways.
Plan A (ending my life at a time and place, and in a manner, of my own choosing) stifles the torment of anxiety-depression but risks the creative light dying well ahead of departure, leaving to a decade of amiable drifting for me and, doubtless, great frustration for those around me.
Plan B (allowing the good night to recede over the horizon) means disconnecting the lightning rod that earths the pain of living. It reopens the door to the spectre of anxiety-depression, and with it the possibility that I’ll still end up taking my own life – but in desperation rather than relative serenity.
It looks as though I’m going to have to choose Plan B.
So come on, life, where is thy sting?