becoming a person who doesn’t want to kill myself

There are periods of my life during which it’s very difficult to think of anything other than blowing my brains out.

Reader, I have put you in an uncomfortable position with such an opening line, I realize. Such a frank discussion of suicide, in our current culture, marks a Very Important Personal Essay, and as the reader, you’ll probably feel like an absolute garbage person if you go “ehhh” and decide not to finish it. How could you! It’s a harrowing, personal experience, and above all else, it should be respected as something monumental and important to me.

Anyway: brains, blown out, splatter, etc.

It has always been a gun. When I was younger, it was some sort of Kurt Cobain Signature Edition™ shotgun, for maximum impact. But as I’ve gotten older, it’s been some classy-looking revolver. This might be because as a teen, I played a lot of Grand Theft Auto, and in Vice City, revolvers killed anyone in one shot. Whilst killing myself, I doubt I’ll have the time to aim and fire a second time.

But: I absolutely cannot stand guns. I don’t want to be within a hundred feet of them at any time. They’re gross! They’re dirty, they’re extremely loud (I would be both dead and possibly permanently hearing-impaired), and I associate them with living in northeast Pennsylvania, then going back there when I worked on the Obama campaign and having local residents spray-paint racial slurs on our signs. Those people are gun owners, and I’m not one of them.

It was this contradiction, that I hated the exact objects that I constantly thought about using to end my life, that made me realize I probably wasn’t going to kill myself. There was just no plausible pathway to doing so.

It’s much easier, for the purposes of both sectioning off a self-destructive aspect of my brain and for this essay, to give the suicidal part of my brain a name. I’ll call him Cody, and like me, he’s a straight white man. It would be weird if I invented an enemy who wasn’t those things, and I tend to really dislike other straight white men, so it’s perfect.

Unlike me, a cultured man of intellect who wants to pursue noble things such as staying up till 4am watching League of Legends games, Cody is more of a mainstream beer-drinking guy. He’s there in my head, watching my day-to-day social interactions like they’re Monday Night Football, and giving me his take on it. He looks like if William F. Buckley was big on Vine.

“Dude.” Cody pauses to drink more beer. “You know what… you know what you should fuckin’ do, dude.”

“What is it, Cody.”

“You should… you should fuckin’ shoot yourself, bro.”

“Yeah… thanks Cody. I’ll think about it.”

“Look, I’m just saying. I watched that. Where you were in the grocery store? And the clerk was like ‘have a good night’ and you kinda half said ‘you too’ and half said ‘have a good night’ and just mumbled nonsense? And walked off? C’mon man.”

“Yeah.”

[Cody makes gun noises with his mouth]

Since his first arrival when I was around 13, I’ve developed a couple early warning systems. When Cody is really close, his theme song starts playing: “Ready to Die” by indie rock band The Unicorns. I’ll be walking around having a normal day and out of nowhere, that song is instantly stuck in my head. It’s a short song with a catchy chorus; as an intolerable music nerd, there’s no way I could have a bad song as the signal that I want to end my life. Killing myself to Pink Floyd would just be against everything I stand for.

I told my partner about this song, and linked her to it. Her reaction was one of horror, that of course such a catchy song would get stuck in my head in such a situation, that it was an evil song and that she felt sympathy for me. No, I insisted, it’s one of my favorite songs. It just also appears when I sincerely want to die.

The other musical warning system I have is the Joy Division Index, which is a lot more straightforward. It’s a real-time-updated numeral system of the percentage of music I’ve recently listened to that is Joy Division. Ever since they became my favorite band, I’ve had a fascination, as many depressed people have, with lead singer Ian Curtis. Here was a supremely talented man. His poetry showed a lot of emotion, but without using much concrete language to betray him as someone who lived on the same spiritual plane as the rest of us. He was troubled (“haunted” is a word that comes up a lot in writing about him) by depression, epilepsy, and a failing marriage. One night, two months short of his 24th birthday and his band’s second album, he put on the Herzog film Stroszek, listened to the Iggy Pop album The Idiot, and hung himself.

What a dick.

Part of the appeal of suicide is how it ends one’s story so early, right when it’s near the high point, or at least somewhere where it’s still interesting. Ian didn’t have to go through his divorce, or the influx of celebrity that would surely arrive with the commercial success of Love Will Tear Us Apart, or his band inevitably making some really embarrassing synthpop later in the 80s.

Cody, when he smokes some truly foul-smelling weed (which I decline) and tries to get more philosophical, finds something admirable in that. He reminds me that, like Ian, I had my very faintest glimmer of recognition when I was in my mid-20s, and I haven’t even attempted anything since then.

“So it’s like, honestly dude? You should have done it then but like. Yeah, no, better late than never. I mean like, no I guess some time would be too late, but like, not too too late? You know?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I know, Cody.”

“Like, you never even got with Julia, man.”

“I know, Cody.”

Because Ian Curtis died so young, the band’s live performances, since they couldn’t happen anymore, took on an almost holy aura. People said how the studio recordings didn’t really capture the live sound, that the live recordings didn’t really capture the atmosphere. Listening to a bootleg of one of those live shows, I feel a sensation in my chest, something between an imagined connection to Ian and the thought that I’m some sort of fraud for sitting here, playing these recordings over and over when they only happened once, in that moment, in real life.

And, check out this insanely good segue I’m about to do, I feel similarly fraudulent for being a suicidal person for never once trying to kill myself. It’s the depressed person’s version of, “Have you seen them live?”. But it’s never going to happen. I’m going to be sitting here listening to the same band and hearing a voice telling me to do something I’m not going to do for a very long time, it seems.

It was quite a while before anyone told me that those kind of thoughts aren’t normal. It never occurred to me that they might not be; doesn’t everyone think about all kinds of weird shit all the time? I had my first psych appointment at UW about four months after calling them to make it. She asked if I ever thought about suicide; I said all the time, and she said, “Well, we need to start you on something right away.”

A bit late, but I appreciated the sentiment.

So I took the drugs and my thoughts changed. Cody wasn’t hanging out as often, Ready To Die played more faintly, the Joy Division Index hit a low not seen since 2009 (back when I thought the band sounded like someone complaining in a cave). But I also slept seventeen hours a day and couldn’t hold down a job.

So I took different drugs. I slept six hours a night instead and started losing weight, down from my normal 140lb at 6’5”. Joking about dressing up as Slenderman for Halloween got a little less funny.

Currently, I’m on my fourth and fifth medication for it. (There was a sixth, but it stopped me from both sleeping and jerking off, which are two of my favorite activities.) My invented-for-the-sake-of-this-essay friend Cody is quiet, but there’s always someone watching what I do. Really, it’s always been less like having one person watching what I do, and more like someone comments on what I do, then someone else comments on that, and on and on, like a recursive, internal Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. I think this is why postmodern writing has always appealed to me so much; the writer acknowledging the reader, acknowledging the acknowledgement of the reader, acknowledging the cliché of doing all this, etc., most closely mimics how my mind works.

I want to be hyper-optimistic about the improvements I’ve made, and whenever I feel good, assume that this feeling isn’t a passing one, but something that will stay with me forever. If I just continue taking these drugs, then maybe I’ve forever left behind the version of myself who wanted to die.

But no matter who I become in the years to come, no matter where I go, I know that at any time, that guy in my head can crack open a beer and say, “Dude…”