Many eons ago I dragged myself through a master’s degree in clinical psychology. There were six of us in the program and no one was happy. We were all at various stages of questioning our lives. For some of us it was life in general and it’s purpose and for others it was the ability to function in any way, shape or form going forward. Our times together were filled with intense, anxiety ridden and often frantic discussion. Life, from a depressed point of view seemed normal. Seemingly happy people made us feel jealous, which of course we covered up with a big dose of cynicism.
One day one of the six did not show up for class. (let’s call him Bill) After a couple of days, his closest friend (also in the program) swung by his apartment to investigate. He found him unbathed, unfed and suicidal. This friend stayed with him, day and night, for three days, while we all waited in silence born from the most extreme kind of worry. Finally, the feedback we received was that Bill was going to be okay. Bill had chosen life. At the time I joined my friends in relieved chatter, faking that I understood what “choosing life” actually meant. I had suffered with depression from the age of thirteen but even in my darkest moments, I had not contemplated suicide. I was doing my masters in psychology. How could I let anyone know that I didn’t quite grasp the depth of this experience?
More than three decades later I think I understand. All those years ago I thought that somehow I had to “choose life” when I had already chosen it. The human experience is so complicated and at some point I had bought the belief that for me, suicide was not an option. It could have been something I heard or simply the fact that my anxiety about dying was always greater than my possible desire for it. For some though, like my friend, it has to be a conscious decision. If you belong to the human race, life is hard. I am no longer conned into believing that life is a piece of cake for some people. I know that if I was given the opportunity to dig deeper that the icing on any person’s cake would be covering some form of angst. When I look for mental health in another person, I don’t look for the presence or absence of anxiety, depression or even psychosis, but instead I look at their attitude towards life and openness to change. Our successful recovery from despair correlates to commitment to life and conversely to our belief that suicide is not an option.
When the possibility of suicide is removed from our belief system, we are able to resolve issues more positively and with greater strength. The idea that suicide could be a solution can immobilize one from moving forward even if the actuality of suicide never occurs. For some people thoughts of suicide are almost comforting and give them a reason for genuine apathy towards their lives. Finding ways to overcome despair, depression or anxiety is extremely difficult and often requires that we dig deep to find resources that seem at times to not be present. If we have not chosen at some point, with total commitment, to live, then I can understand why overcoming these hardships can be impossible.
Choosing life must be at the very core of a person’s existence. Only from that point can one hope to attain a life of personal fulfilment and peace.