I was listening to NPR on my way to taiji on Saturday, and it was in the middle of a story by a guy named Jake who had interviewed his friend, Brian, about his (Brian’s) suicidal tendencies. I was dropped in the middle of the story, so I didn’t have all the background, but it was immediately gripping. Brian’s voice was flat, stripped of all affect. and I immediately recognized it as deeply depressed. I assumed it was recent, but soon found out that it was from 1999. That made more sense with some of what he was saying, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
It was fascinating to me because I think about death a lot, and even though suicide isn’t on the forefront of my mind that much these days, it’s still tucked away in a corner, ready to break its way out. I have never woken up and been glad to be alive. The best I can do is not be sad that I’m not dead. So, Jake’s interview with Brian after the latter tried to kill himself for the second time. Jake simply wanted to try and understand why Brian felt the way he did, so he lets Brian do most of the talking.
The thing that struck me is how rational Brian sounded in his explanation as to why suicide was the answer to his problem. The brain can justify anything, and his brain had honed its justification to perfection. When Jake asked him if he thought suicide was selfish*, he responded by saying that it was selfish in the way going to therapy was selfish. It was a way of solving a problem, he explained in a clinical voice. He wasn’t trying to convince himself or Jake that this was true; he actually believed it. He was convinced that his solution was no different that trying to work it out in therapy.
This is the insidiousness of depression. Listening to Brian, I could say, “What you’re saying doesn’t make sense. Suicide isn’t the same as therapy at all.” But, I understood where he was coming from. When I was deep in my depression, I was able to convince myself that I was toxic to the world and that it would be better off without me. It didn’t matter how many friends I had or what anyone said to me; I was convinced the world would be better off with me dead.