Once you understand you can kill yourself whenever you want to, or imagine you’ll find the guts for it when necessary, time ceases to exist and something strange happens. A lifetime seems both too long and too short at the same time. That’s when you realize there’ll be plenty of time to die in if it comes to that, and you learn to tough it out. [Choosing not to kill myself] sounds like solid existential resolve now, but in fact it was cowardice. When I couldn’t pull the trigger, I had to convince myself that living actually took more courage than quitting the game. … I couldn’t think of what I needed to do for myself, and I struggled with the knowledge that I was always going to be alone because I couldn’t figure out what it took to be with another person. The idea of spending the rest of my life without love was killing me. Still, this wasn’t a serious suicide attempt, it was just pushing myself in that direction to see if it made any more sense than the terminal isolation … [A]nxiety and panic attacks [had] followed me into my thirties, and … sometimes drove me to extremes of despair.
That’s Stephen Zanichkowsky writing in his memoir. The skills he developed for coping with an unhappy childhood did not transfer well to adulthood. He got Depressed. It’s not a good place to be in, Depression. If you feel trapped in it, the only way out may seem to be the permanent ending.
Zanichkowsky talks about “courage” in the passage above. “I had to convince myself that living actually took more courage than quitting the game.” He means that the better course is the more courageous? Nobody wants to be thought a coward, even in the grave. “[B]ut in fact [choosing not to kill myself] was cowardice,” he says in the sentence preceding. Courage and cowardice come up frequently in discussions of suicide.
Is it more courageous to live? Or more cowardly?
In the passage I quoted by Chris Stedman last year, the young Stedman also decided not to kill himself. He also talked about cowardice: “I couldn’t will myself to go through with it. I was too afraid.” Unlike Zanichkowsky, Stedman then lists a few things of which he was afraid: “of the selfishness of this act and how my family would react to it; of the physical pain involved; of failing at this, too; but most of all of the fate I was sure would greet me after death.”
Zanichkowsky says he no longer considered himself Catholic and was more bemused by his mother’s fear for his eternal soul (endangered by suicide, you know) than bothered by the notion of a nasty afterlife. Stedman says the afterlife was what scared him most of all. I’ve contemplated suicide; post-death punishment by God has never been a factor in my decisionmaking.
But the opening sentences in the Stephen Zanichkowsky passage say something I don’t recall having heard discussed elsewhere:
Once you understand you can kill yourself whenever you want to, or imagine you’ll find the guts for it when necessary, time ceases to exist and something strange happens. A lifetime seems both too long and too short at the same time. That’s when you realize there’ll be plenty of time to die in if it comes to that, and you learn to tough it out.
Contemplating suicide can be empowering. If you have given yourself permission to kill yourself, you realize you have power, the power to destroy, the power to end all the pain, but, most curiously (for one feeling powerless in the throes of Depression), the power to decide for yourself and the power to act. You will die some day anyway. If the ultimate choice is yours, other options, which may have seemed bad, now just seem different. Different choices. “A lifetime seems both too long and too short at the same time.”
source: Fourteen: growing up alone in a crowd by Stephen Zanichkowsky