Sunday, 17 August 2014

Why I Would Try To Commit Suicide Again

Yes, it's a controversial and hardly subtle title, but unfortunately this fits with the subject. With the recent passing of Robin Williams who committed suicide after struggling with depression for a long time the media has been abuzz with well-intended clamouring about 'preventing suicide' in addition to the usual exclamation of horror at the thought of someone committing suicide. To someone whose mind has never been filled with thoughts of actually ending one's life as a way to end the tormenting pain of existence, all of this may sound perfectly reasonable. As a suicide 'survivor' and someone who struggles daily with (suicidal) depression, it was a very grating and unpleasant experience.

There are two things which come to mind at such displays of revolting compassion. The first thing is that those who commit suicide and succeed at it are heroes. They have accomplished what most of us never manage or can only dream of. They took stock of their life and potential future and decided to go in against the strongest force in a human being: that of self-preservation. It's one thing to have someone else threaten your continued existence, but it's something far more frightening and terrifying to actually realize the same ability in oneself. To plan and execute such a self-termination is both the most horrifying and most awesome thing in the world.

Working up towards that moment is horrifying in that you worry about so many things and question whether there really isn't any other way. It's where it's still just a suicidal depression. Then, as the pressure mounts and the escape routes are being closed off one by one until the moment comes when the last part of your being has to grudgingly admit that there is no other option. That's the best moment.

I took my decision to commit suicide the day before, as I was lying in bed. Waking up the next morning there was no doubt in my mind. The time for worrying or questioning my decision was long past. There was just one thing to do that day. I took some time to get dressed, brush my hair and going through the rest of my morning routine. Then I executed my plan. Throughout it all I felt so calm and peaceful as I have not felt at any point in my life before or afterwards. This was the confirmation for me that I was doing the right thing. In that sense waking up hours later in the hospital on oxygen was the complete opposite of that sensation. I felt crushed. Destroyed. Even the ability to take my own life had been taken from me. Coming to terms with life after a suicide attempt is just bizarre and made me realize what is meant with 'living on borrowed time'.

Deciding to commit suicide and going through with it is the hardest, bravest thing one can do. Every single person who decided to jump to their deaths during the 9-11 attacks on the World Trading Center in New York in 2011 were similarly heroes. Even though they knew they were going to die there is no easy way to convince oneself that leaping out of a window is preferable to being consumed by the flames roaring near oneself. To someone suffering from depression, traumas and/or persecution there exist only those two options as well: death or death. Just pick the one which hurts the least. That's why they are all heroes.

The second thought the media frenzy brought to mind was just how much the whole treating suicidal people as weak individuals one should take pity on irks me. It appears to be the overburdening thought on the minds of those who don't know what really goes on inside the minds of those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. In many ways it's ridiculous for individuals who have lived relatively comfortable lives without any major adversity or close relatives or friends committing suicide or dying to assume anything about mortality. They do not understand how much everyone of us who deal with thoughts about our own mortality and the constant fight to keep living is hardened by these experiences.

They say that those who face the most adversity in life turn out to be among the wisest, strongest and gentlest people imaginable and I think that is generally true. We understand the ups and downs of life. We have seen what hell is like and have a fairly good picture of heaven. We also understand that at times one has to reach out for help as we cannot do everyone on our own. This is where the patronizing attitude to suicide makes everything worse.

Before my suicide attempt I didn't really like talking about it because it made people uncomfortable. Afterwards I was surprised by how shocked people responded to the fact that I had tried to take my own life. To me it was just something that had happened and which made perfect sense to me. It's like being shocked at a lion gorging on the carcass of a gazelle. It's how life works. Now that I'm still suicidally depressed but actually do talk about it on my blog and video logs I notice that little has changed from four years ago. People shy away from suicidal people. Nobody wants to deal with them or acknowledge the issue.

The whole 'talk to a psychologist' and 'take some anti-depressants' nonsense is all part of it. Don't deal with the issue. Ignore it. Make it someone else's responsibility. That's how even an international celebrity who was adored by many and who made his struggle with depression hardly a secret never found the help he needed. How likely is it that the more common folk among us will get the help they need, then? If the past decade of my own experiences and the stories of many others I talked with during that time are anything to judge by, it seems best to give up on the thought of trying to find any help, regardless of the underlying cause of one's suicidal thoughts.

Though every case of depression and suicidal thoughts is unique, there is always a reason and a solution. If the reason hasn't been found yet, it's still there. Depression doesn't just happen. I saw a quote attributed to Stephen Fry comparing depression to the weather in the sense that it 'just is'. I take issue with this assessment, though it's also a very ambiguous statement to make. First of all the weather isn't necessarily bad or good. Nor do we want to get rid of it. A depression is always bad and always inflicts horrible damage on the person suffering from it as well as their environment. Depression also has to be solved and dealt with. But not by patronizing the person fighting with it. Instead we should acknowledge that they are not crazy, weak or anything else that is negative.

Acknowledge the fight a depressed person is fighting, then try to determine the cause to best support them. Here we broadly have two possibilities: a physical cause and one rooted in one's environment or society. The physical one can be a biochemical problem which is treatable with medication and possibly counselling. The other one is the ugly one which is most akin to being trapped high up in a burning skyscraper. This is the 'no help after trauma' depression. As this is a broad area with far too much ground to cover in a single article I'll just limit it to my own story, also going back to the original title of this article: why I would try to commit suicide again.

Even though I have a well-paying job and apparently a bright future with a lot of requests for my intellectual capabilities as I get asked to write technical reference books and manage to know at least something about virtually every area in science and technology, I still struggle with a central problem in my life: feeling lonely and misunderstood, without acknowledgement for the trauma I have gone through for the past 25 years. All that I feel left with is this constant pain of both a physical and emotional nature as I trudge through life all by myself. I have given up on trying to come close to others or have 'normal' relations as it doesn't feel right and my pain always seems to lash out at others around me, hurting them in turn.

The central issue at the core of this pain I deal with is the issue of my body. Even after a decade-long struggle with medical systems around the world I still am unable to say what my body is, with me fearing that the 'you're crazy' side among physicians only saying this to protect themselves from a massive lawsuit. I could be a hermaphrodite or at least have some form of intersex. I know that I'm not male or female because my physiology supports neither claim, yet I'm still being put away as some crazy transgender person with me having no recourse against this. Regular harassment both on and off-line are a result of this in addition to the massive self-doubt this has created inside my own mind.

I don't know what I am. I also have never had anything to fill up this gap the way for example transgenders at some point figure out what their physical identity has to be. I merely pretend to be female because it's convenient and fits the best. I still don't know what I am, and this hurts more than anything. Physicians refusing to tell me what I am, arguing amongst themselves and making me wonder whether they are truly scheming against me or whether I'm just paranoid further increases the pain. I feel like a freak. A piece of trash. Less than an animal. As a result I hate this body of mine more than anything in this world.

Destroying the body I inhabit is one of my fondest fantasies. Just to erase all of the pain and hurt associated with it. Correct the mistake of having been born in this body that is just 'wrong' and which will only keep causing me more and more pain for as long as it exists.

Would talking with a psychologist help with this? Maybe anti-depressants? Unlikely. Combined with the severe PTSD I suffered over the past years there is no way that just talking or medicating is solving anything. I still won't learn anything about this body. I won't learn to live with the fact that the medical community has betrayed me. All it'll do is push the issue away under a medication-induced haze.

Suicide, then?

At this point there is still some distance between me and the wall of flames so that I can keep the faint hope that maybe I won't have to die. This can rapidly change, though. The memory of the intense sensation of peace I once felt becomes very alluring at that point. For now I just keep trying to bury myself in intellectual pursuits to keep the monster at bay.

For now, though, I have put the MRI scans made of me over the past decade online for anyone interested to peruse[1]. I'm willing to make any other parts of my medical file available and answer any questions if it may be helpful for those willing to help me. I have done my part. Now I wait. And hope.

How valuable is a singular existence, anyway?


[1] 2007-12-21: MRI, Germany:
2008-11-06: Erasmus MC, Netherlands:
2009-12-??: OLVG, Netherlands:
2013-06-28: MST, Netherlands:
2014-07-08: Uni Tubingen, Germany:


Coatesmoe said...

One thing I can say is that you have to build on yourself. You are alone the day you are born. Perhaps for a limited period of time people will travel the hard road with you and then sometime you turn around and they are no longer there. Your predicament I compare to being a white or light skinned Black person living in America. All the white people like you until they discover that you are Black. The Black people want no contact with you because you are white in their eyes. The end result is that you hid and find ways to get through life without being discovered by either side. You see the hate on both sides and you try to avoid getting physically hurt by those who feel betrayed by your whiteness. This is a hard way to go in America where race is very important. There is no peace or sanctuary where you can rest. There is no relationship that you can enter where the end result brings hurt and violence for your being what you are. Europe is a safe haven because people can always assume that you are from a particular area. The moment of truth is always a stones throw away.
I say again it is moving what you write but there are others who sit in the same wagon with you and have the same thoughts regarding themselves. You have to be the tree in the storm and a mountain to your peers. There is no other way. You are born alone and will like all of us die alone. Be strong for yourself.

Tonko Lumn said...

Hoi Maya,
Ik ken je niet (heb je ooit gezien bij Pauw&Witteman) maar toen ik je verhaal over zelfmoord las, voelde ik me geroepen om erop te reageren. Ten eerste omdat ik dingen herken. Ook ik worstel met depressies en negatieve gedachtes bij de zelfmoord van anderen zoals bijvoorbeeld Robin Wiliams: die heeft tenminste lef! Dus ik schrik niet terug van dit soort openheid. Ik houd sowieso niet van taboes en ben het helemaal met je eens dat de meeste mensen er geen raad mee weten als je dit soort gevoelens uitspreekt en je om die reden liever zullen ontwijken. Wat dat betreft zullen veel depressieve mensen de negatieve spiraal herkennen van hoe slechter je je voelt en hoe meer mensen je op dat moment nodig hebt, hoe meer mensen juist afstand van je zullen nemen omdat ze er geen raad mee weten en niet bezig willen zijn met dat soort negatieve en ingewikkelde kwesties, waardoor je je juist alleen maar weer slechter en eenzamer gaat voelen enz. Natuurlijk heb ook ik niet de oplossing en kan ik je helaas niet geruststellen met een mededeling van “I’ve been there maar nu is alles weer goed met me gekomen etc.” Maar net als de filosoof Alain de Botton ben ik ervan overtuigd dat de mens in zijn leven in feite maar één (of drie) ding wil: liefde, waardering en respect. En volgens mij is herkenning daarbij een hele belangrijke factor, dus moet je op zoek naar gelijkgestemden. Niet om elkaar naar beneden te halen maar om een gevoel van herkenning en waardering te krijgen en er dus positieve gevoelens aan over te houden. Hoe moeilijk die gelijkgestemden misschien ook te vinden zijn omdat je uit een heel klein vijvertje zult moeten zien te vissen. Want ik ken de precieze details en achtergronden van jouw depressie natuurlijk niet, maar dat een hoogbegaafde interseksuele vrouw/man worstelt met gevoelens van niet begrepen worden daar kan ik me wel wat bij voorstellen. Bij mij speelt hoogbegaafd ook een belangrijke rol in mijn depressiviteit. Ik kwam er door mijn kinderen pas na mijn 40e achter dat ik waarschijnlijk hoogbegaafd ben en pas nu op mijn 48e heb ik het écht geaccepteerd dat dat de verklaring is waarom ik me vaak zo eenzaam en onbegrepen heb gevoeld. Maar ik hoef in elk geval niet te worstelen met mijn seksualiteit aangezien ik een gewone heteroseksuele man ben. Nou ja gewoon, ik heb maar één relatie in mijn leven gehad en die eindigde na tien jaar in een scheiding dus zo gewoon ben ik nu ook weer niet. Daar staat tegenover (even een wedstrijd van maken:-) dat jij een succesvolle carrière op jouw niveau hebt, terwijl ik alleen maar heb aangerommeld in eenvoudige baantjes en daar bovendien niet goed in was (achteraf verklaarbaar). Mijn laatste was bijvoorbeeld bij een callcenter om maar aan te geven dat er altijd nog ergere dingen zijn dan worstelen met je seksualiteit (een grapje ter verduidelijking!). Voor mij was dat de grens: geen klote baantjes meer waar ik ongeschikt voor ben. Mijn punt is dat hoe klein de vijver ook is, ik ervan overtuigd ben dat er meer mensen zijn zoals jij. Ik zeg niet dat als je zo iemand vindt (en hopelijk wat meer mensen) je af bent van je depressie en zelfmoordgedachten want er zijn meer (genetische) factoren die bepalen wie jij bent. Maar ik geloof er wel in dat door herkenning bij anderen je je eigen situatie beter leert accepteren zoals die is en je eindelijk ziet dat er helemaal niets mis is met jou zoals je bent. Misschien kom ik wat moralistisch over en vind je het allemaal dooddoeners en natuurlijk heb ook ik de waarheid niet in pacht, maar toch wilde ik dit even kwijt na jouw blog. Indirect praat ik ook tegen mezelf, want wellicht dat je dat herkent: anderen coachen en adviseren is veel makkelijker dan jezelf. Op papier kun je wel weten wat je moet doen, maar dat is veel makkelijker gezegd dan gedaan. In elk geval veel succes met je (hopelijk nog lange) leven en ik hoop dat je op een dag kunt denken van: ach, zo slecht heb ik het inderdaad niet en ik ben best blij met mijn leven.
Groeten,Tonko Lumn

Tonko Lumn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maya Posch said...

@Coatesmoe - It's a sad thing that humanity cannot be a pillar of strength for itself through unity. We're all humans, after all.

Instead we turn upon each other, biting and inflicting lethal damage whenever we can. As far as skin colour goes, things have become better here since the days of apartheid in the 1960s in the US, but 'different' is something which even affects 'white' people, with many sub-divisions there too.

Part of me still believes that humanity can one day accomplish this state of unity, though I do not know what will be needed to reach it.

@Tonko Lumn - Hoogbegaafdheid en intelligentie in het algemeneen schijnt een behoorlijk risicofactor te zijn wat betreft zelfmoord. Hier zit waarschijnlijk ook weer een neurologische reden achter.

Het ergste met depressie is volgens mij gewoon dat het niets te maken heeft met zelfbewustzijn, maar iets onbewust is, zoals honger of pijn. Je kan het negeren, maar het zal echt niet vanzelf wel weer weggaan.

Wat je zegt over het leren van anderen is absoluut waar. De afgelopen jaren heb ik ontzettend veel geleerd van mensen wiens ervaringen met die van mijzelf overlappen.

Wel is het zo dat er een verschil is tussen het accepteren van jezelf zoals je bent en het accepteren dat je niet weet en nimmer zal weten wat je bent. Het eerste is oneindig veel eenvoudiger in vergelijking met het laatste.

In ieder geval voor de bemoediging :)