Hey. Don’t kill yourself.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I realize that the following is a little out of your purview, and wanted to thank you beforehand for looking at it, even if you don’t respond.

I find it very difficult to care about the course that my life takes. I definitely feel emotions like a normal person (I laughed a lot when reading through your blog), but I have trouble feeling personally connected or concerned about people, myself included, though I am altruistic to people in general regardless of whether I know them or not. I also consider life and death to be equally value-neutral–as in, dying isn’t a horrible tragedy to me, though having your choice of whether to live or die taken away against your will is certainly very sad–and the world to be more bad than good. Because of this, I have always considered it a possibility that I might kill myself if my life gets too unpleasant, painful, unlivable, or just too boring. 

This isn’t a problem for me, since I don’t particularly care if I live or die. What is a problem for me is the idea that doing so would make other people’s lives miserable. I have seen families after a suicide and it is not pretty; I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. However, forcing myself to continue to live for the sake of others after I’ve already decided otherwise sounds distinctly unappealing; it’s just a milder form of having my choice taken from me. 

What do you think is the right course of action? Should I just distance myself from them preemptively and hope that it’s enough?

Thanks,

Not Enough (or Too Much) Empathy

Dear Not Enough Or Too Much Empathy:

This is pretty far above my pay grade, but I’ll attempt it.

I have to come down strongly on the side of “don’t kill yourself.”  Don’t kill yourself. Ever.

There’s a new season of Sherlock coming!

People all over the world have taken to the streets to try to change the world, and maybe they will.

In a couple of months winter will be over and the world will come into bloom again.

I will try to write more funny posts that make you laugh!

To be bored is a privilege. It means you have too many mostly similar choices before you and can’t settle on exactly the right one – you get stuck in the existential cereal aisle for a couple of hours. It means that you have a temporary reprieve from the eternal struggle for survival, and your brain doesn’t know quite what to do with it. It’s a side effect of life in a wealthy Western country. If you want to feel less bored, can I suggest a) making stuff (art, music, science, really great food) and/or b) helping other people?  Even if you’re not “inspired” or whatever?  Maybe do the thing and trust that the feelings will come from the doing?

I don’t know what to tell you about your friends. I’m sure you’d find a way to explain it all to them in a letter, but maybe you should try “I sometimes think about killing myself and what stops me is wondering how it will affect you?” as a conversation opener while everyone’s still alive. It might mean that your friends do annoying stuff like call for professional help and check you in somewhere and then you can be bored somewhere new for a while. Maybe telling them (and succumbing to the treatment they send you to) is an act you can do to get them used to the idea and make them feel like they are helping. They can say “We tried everything to save her.”

Maybe the help they get you will actually help. You know that wanting to die because you feel bored and disconnected from everything is a well-defined treatable condition, right?  You can call yourself a “potential sociopath” (in the subject line of your email)(and maybe you are), but what if you’re just depressed? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing, like, you could have taken medication and talked your feelings over with someone, but instead you killed yourself because you thought you had some unique and special condition?

I’ve seen people die. I’ve seen pets die. You just blink out, like Christmas lights unplugged from the wall. It’s so fucking final.

I talked to my grandfather on the phone one last time a few days before he died at 96. He couldn’t say much, but he said my name with love and he told me that life is beautiful. He believed in an afterlife. He believed he’d be reunited with my grandmother, who he missed. And he still wanted to live another day, another minute. One more breath.

How can you want to die when you haven’t been to all the countries yet?  There are stories in the middle of unfolding, don’t you want to know how they end?

I’m sorry I don’t have any advice for helping your loved ones handle your eventual suicide. I can’t really get past the “don’t kill yourself” stage.
45 comments
  1. This LW sounds like they might be young, which makes me hope even more that they don’t kill themself.

    When I was younger, I didn’t know where my life was going. I wasn’t ever suicidal, but I had that same sense of “Is this all there is? Is ‘just okay’ as good as it gets? Am I just gonna keep doing this same ol’ stuff for the next 60 years?”

    It took a few years to learn that the answer to all 3 questions is “no.” My life has changed in ways I completely didn’t expect. Not all of them completely good, but all of them different and surprising and extremely worth sticking around to see.

    If you’re under 40, odds are you haven’t yet heard the funniest joke of your life, met the most fascinating person of your life, gone on the best trip of your life, read the best book of your life, had the most important conversation of your life, or eaten the best Phad Thai of your life.

    It would be a goddamn shame to die before you eat that Phad Thai.

    • Copcher said:

      I want to second this, and add that you should probably stick around even if you’re over 40 and don’t even like Phad Thai. (BTW, is that how you spell it? I always thought it was Pad Thai. You really can learn something new every day.) Life can change in amazingly unexpected ways, even if you’re more than 2×40.

    • Ensign Perception. said:

      Yeah, I agree. Life is fascinating, it would be a shame to miss out on that. I understand being in a place where your obligations to others feel like the only things that are keeping you from suicide, LW, but in fact the best reasons to stick around are 100% selfish. I hope you find some!

  2. AnnaEng said:

    Wanting to kill yourself because you are bored is a frightening thing. Please talk to your loved ones!

  3. Travis said:

    Clearly, you see this as a logical choice–cost versus reward, pain caused (to your family) versus pain relieved (your own boredom, etc.). Not a bad way to live, but where there is logic there is fallacy, and I ask you: have you considered that maybe you don’t want to kill yourself, but are somehow biased toward it?

    It’s important to consider, because as mama told me: “Suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem”. I’m not saying you haven’t thought this through, and that you don’t make good points…but we make doctors go to school for, like, forever. In my country you can’t run for President until you’re 35. When people are expected to make big decisions with lasting repercussions, we like to they’ve 1) had time to earn the knowledge and wisdom to understand those decisions, and 2) been scrutinized somewhat by others who have an interest int he outcomes of those decisions.

    Suicide is the biggest decision you’ll ever make.

    I’m a Christian who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and in fact, believe that suicide is justified and necessary is some circumstances (but I wouldn’t put “boredom” in that category). I absolutely agree you have a right to die, and you should feel free to carry out the act without guilt or obligation to those around you.

    But before you make that jump, please: get an outside opinion. See a therapist, someone who will care about you and examine your logic and maybe–oh God, I really hope–give you some tools to have the life you want instead of the death you think you need. Therapists are great at helping you determine what about life is “too unpleasant, painful, unlivable, or just too boring” for you, and what only seems that way because of other factors.

    Be very honest with your therapist about why you’re considering suicide, what about the world has become “too unpleasant, painful, unlivable, or just too boring”, and the reasoning you’ve presented. Don’t stay with a therapist who doesn’t accept the premise that suicide IS an option, but don’t go through with it until you’ve talked at length with one who will accept it. Talk openly, hold nothing back, and do whatever they recommend. If you feel the same way AND that you honestly followed the advice and explored the opportunities presented, than maybe suicide is right for you. But you’ll never really know one way or another when you go into that value-neutral darkness.

  4. TeaBQ said:

    Hi, member of the I Was Suicidal club here. Nice to met you, letter writer.

    I wanted to point out that a lack of emotions about life can be a symptom of depression. It’s a myth that the only emotion a depressed person feels is sadness. One can be depressed and find a joke funny. One can be depressed and just not feel anything. One can be depressed without crying 24/7, in other words.

    During some of my depressive episodes I had times where I just could not care about things. I didn’t even care that I didn’t care, if you follow me. No interest in my formerly favorite TV shows, no interest in food. When I got out of it I could see that it was like somebody dimmed the light on everything that interested me, but at the time I couldn’t see it. Like I didn’t even realize the lack of interest in certain things was a symptom, as opposed to my tastes changing over time.

    For me part of being full-on suicidal was that it was like a switch flipped and the apathy was applied to whether I lived or died. Granted I had other things going on as well (again, because depression doesn’t have one single emotion). But for someone who used to have panic attacks at the thought of death to go to “… meh” about it was a huge change.

    You may want to consider talking to your doctor about how you feel – or don’t feel, as the case may be. I know that by definition this may not seem like a big deal in your eyes. However generally speaking, if someone is at the point where, even as an academic exercise, they’re considering proactive plans for their own suicide, it’s usually a sign that their brain is starting to flash the internal “check engine” light.

    Again, while you’re in it it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But speaking as someone who’s been down that hole before and knows the way out, trust me when I say it’s a bigger deal than people give it credit for.

  5. My best friend from college and I had a falling out in 2002/2003, over what I don’t really know. He was an angry guy. We emailed in 2006 during the world cup, but it didn’t stick. He died in early 2009.

    I think of him every day. Whenever I make a film or write a story I realize at some point in the process that it’s in part about him and about the things he needed that I didn’t have, or couldn’t give him. When I finish I usually feel happy and relieved for a little while until I realize I want to show him what I did, in the hopes he will be proud of me. Then I cry and cry.

    Sometimes I call his father and we talk about my life, all the things I’m trying to accomplish. I haven’t accomplished much in my life and sometimes I feel useless and ashamed. My friend’s dad always makes a point to tell me how much he likes me, how important I am to him and how he thinks I’ll succeed. His dad is a successful guy who’s accomplished a lot, but many days his life seems hollow and meaningless. Once he told me that life is like brushing your teeth – you don’t want to do it, but you just do it because you know you have to. That’s every day for him now.

    When my friend killed himself all the pain that was inside of him shattered into tiny shards that flew out and stuck in those of us who loved him. Sometimes you forget they’re there but they never stop hurting. Those tiny shards are his legacy. Probably some will stick in my kids even after I’m gone.

    I don’t begrudge him those shards. I’m strong, and I can take a lot of pain. I just wish that instead of doing it this way he had found a way to share this pain with me while he was still alive. Never once did he say to me “god, Apeman, I’m hurting and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I can take it. I’m scared and alone and I need your help.”

    I know this isn’t the cheeriest comment. The point is, the idea of withdrawing from people in the hopes of sparing them the pain of your suicide is impossible. I hadn’t spoken to this guy in almost seven years. Those who love you will never fully recover from your suicide – it will overshadow everything good you’ve done in your life.

    I fully understand how much life hurts sometimes. Just a couple weeks ago I sat in a chair and seriously pondered the question “how much shame and anguish can I endure? how long can I go on feeling this way?” [Thanks, Christmas!]

    I found the answer, which is always the same – A bit longer. A bit longer. A bit longer.

    Good luck, friend. Stay with us. Hang on.

    • kathleendonohue said:

      “Those who love you will never fully recover from your suicide – it will overshadow everything good you’ve done in your life.”

      This.

    • Rydra Wong said:

      “Those who love you will never fully recover from your suicide – it will overshadow everything good you’ve done in your life.”

      Okay, I have to say: when I was severely suicidal, this sort of thought didn’t make me feel more like living.

      It just made me feel even worse, because I was fairly sure I was going to lose the fight not to die, I already knew it was going to hurt the people I loved terribly, and hearing that it would obliterate anything good I’d ever done would have felt like a final stab to the heart.

      I spent a lot of time on the phone to my mother from the mental hospital where I was staying, sobbing and telling her again and again that I was trying as hard as I could, but if anything happened, I was so, so sorry, and never to believe that it was because she and my father had done anything wrong or because I didn’t love them enough.

      It sounds like the LW is already fully aware of how much pain suicide will cause to their friends/family, which is why they’re thinking about pre-emptively distancing themselves.

      Telling them again doesn’t help answer the question of how to live in a way which is more than “endure grimly so you won’t hurt other people by killing yourself.”

      • Well, I think we’ve established that I’m shit at keeping people from killing themselves. I thought this time I would try saying something instead of saying nothing. If I said the wrong thing I guess that confirms my previous fear that I don’t quite know what to say.

        My only point is we’re rooting for you because yes, it does matter if you live or die. Just from posting on this board our lives have been entwined up together. They can’t be untangled by distance or seclusion. We’re in this together. It’s not just your peril. It’s a common peril. We’re all in this darkness together. We fall into a hole sometimes. It’s hard to get out, and most of us need help to get out. If someone goes all the way under, they take something important with them.

        In 1998 I drank too much (etc) and started vomiting and coughing simultaneously. Then I began to hiccup. Eventually I stopped breathing. I remember thinking “wow, I’ve read about people choking to death on their own vomit, but I guess I never really thought about what that is.”

        I stopped seeing the world and started seeing shapes. The shapes got less and less complex. I saw a pattern of hexagons. That seemed bad. I saw a single square. That seemed VERY bad. I saw a triangle. Time stopped.

        At some point everything disappeared and I was sitting in a corner of the small porch looking at the pile of fluid I had yarked up. I looked up at Nathan, who was wearing a disappointed, disgusted look that I saw on his face many times in our friendship. He brought me inside and showed me how he was about to win Alpha Centauri on the Transcend difficulty level via the Transcend victory condition. I didn’t think he was God, I KNEW he was God.

        I used to be angry with Mark for killing himself but now my selfish anger has turned to a more pure form of selfishness – I’m glad if he was going to go under he fought long enough to save my life. And I don’t just mean heimliching me outside his ant-infested rental house, I mean finding me in 1994 academically and socially unprepared for the hard world I had plunged myself into at UMCP and teaching me about British hardcore and soccer and avocadoes and Daniel Pinkwater and never, EVER giving up even when I thought everything and everyone was against me.

        I don’t know what darkness took Mark after he moved to Brazil but I know it was nothing I could have endured. He was a lot tougher than me. I wish he were still here but I’m glad I knew him, even if it had to end that way. He hung on long enough to become one of the most important people in my life. Whether that itself is important remains to be seen. I’ll get up tomorrow and try to make it so.

        Selah

        • I’ll be calling him something different every time I name him, as is my custom with this sort of thing.

        • Rydra Wong said:

          “Well, I think we’ve established that I’m shit at keeping people from killing themselves.”

          I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel that way.

          I think one of the hard things to face is that sometimes you can’t (no-one can) — there is no perfect thing that anyone else can say or do that’ll guarantee someone won’t kill themselves. Sometimes no amount of external help is enough.

          Though “we’re rooting for you because yes, it does matter if you live or die” is a pretty good thing to say regardless.

  6. This does sound a lot like depression. Depression is sneaky. Get help now! For example, try googling “suicide hotline” (plus the name of your country if you’re not in the U.S.). I got “Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.” Or, if you have health coverage, just call your doctor and ask for a referral to a therapist.

    You do still care about hurting your loved ones. So try not to. Make a phone call.

  7. KM said:

    Hi Letter-Writer!

    You asked about what would be the best way to make your suicide easier for your family. I don’t think anyone has answered this so I’ll tell you the answer: there is no way. There is absolutely no way that losing a loved one could ever be easy or OK.

    In your letter it sounds like you are seeing this as an all-or-nothing decision, as if you had to decide right now whether to commit suicide right away or else stick around until you’re 95. But why not just delay that decision for a few weeks more, and take the time to try out some of the excellent suggestions that Captain Awkward and the other commenters gave, about talking to loved ones and friends and going to see a doctor. Or you could try calling a suicide helpline, for instance http://psychcentral.com/helpme.htm. It’s not like you have anything to lose, right?

    I agree with the other commenters who said it sounds like you might have clinical depression. That’s actually a good thing, because it means that there are probably treatments that could help! I hope things get better for you soon.

    • Jake said:

      I agree that it’s really important to remember that deciding not to kill yourself now isn’t a permanent decision. Try the things people are suggesting (therapy, residential programs, suicide hotline, trying every single Pad Thai restaurant in your city, whatever). You can always kill yourself later, if they don’t work, and it’s okay if that thought it what allows you to do them now. But postpone the decision for a while while you look at other options.

  8. Dorothy said:

    I remember being 19 and thinking that I had the world figured out. I learned all the basics, and everything else was just going to be a variation on a theme. Is that all there is, I wanted to know. When I look back on that time, I have to scratch my head. What was I thinking??? Life has more twists and turns than I could ever have imagined, and the older I get, the more interesting it becomes. Life IS stranger than fiction. But I didn’t realize that until I was older, and to stay around and find out what happens for as long as I can is my fondest wish.

    I’m getting up there in age, and my younger years were pretty rotten, but I’m really glad I stuck around to find that life is amazingly colorful and that I’ve learned my greatest lessons after 40.

    LW, I think, as others have said, that talking to someone – a therapist, doctor, etc., is something that would be of utmost importance. You might also volunteer to do something for those who are in unfortunate circumstances, or work with children in some way. Getting out and doing something for the community might kick-start some energy. Or getting involved in a hot yoga group might be good to get your physical system in gear and energize you, for example.

    I don’t know if I’ve said anything that helps, but YOU DESERVE to have a fantastic life. And as I’ve said on other posts before, it’s darkest before the dawn, and sometimes, if you take just a few more steps, you’ll find another, brighter level of thinking. I would hate for you to think that suicide is an option. That’s why I STRONGLY RECOMMEND that you see someone you trust and talk about your feelings!!! PLEASE!!!

  9. This holiday season I came to the conclusion that my mother is suicidal. She’s pretty seriously disabled after a major stroke six years ago. She’s got a host of problems from mobility, cognitive memory issues, incontinence, problems walking, problems seeing pretty much anything on her left. This all happened after a 20 year struggle to recover fully from a major car accident.

    Add to this the fact that our family is impatient, easily angered, and very opinionated and you have a serious recipe for issues. Our dad does the best he can to care for her,she’s come so far from where she was six years ago. She’s walking and can really take care of herself for an extended period. She’s doing so much better in so many ways but she doesn’t see any of that. Despite all of our efforts and the efforts of countless friends and family members all she sees now is her failure to be the person she used to be. More and more she is saying things about how we’d all be better off without her.

    She’s a warm and loving person when she isn’t wallowing in self pity, and she is pretty much universally loved. We’re going to try to get her some treatment, because we love her. We are going to try everything we possibly can to keep her with us for as long as possible because this is the only chance we get to spend time with her.

    That said, I come from a fucking morbid family. (Our family owns a mortuary chain, it’s amazingly fucked up.) Part of this means that we are prepared for death when our family members get sick, or old. I think we are all getting ready to lose our grandma, and we all know that my Mom will never make it to 90 like her mom and her mom’s mom.

    So I guess what I’m saying is the letter writer should give their loved ones a chance, go to therapy, try to get help, talk to them about how they are feeling. Let his/her family and friends fight for the person that they love. And then if the letter writer does decide that their time on this earth is over, at least no one will be surprised.

    (Also if anyone has any good resources about depression for people with major brain trauma, I’d love that. We’re trying to find some therapy options and also some in home help for her.)

    • TeaBQ said:

      It’s not uncommon for people with brain trauma (or any huge physical change) to experience depression. It’s good that you paid attention to what she was saying and realized she was possibly suicidal.

      Have you talked with her regular doctors? They may have some recs. They may also be able to get her on some meds to help hold the fort until you can find a good psychiatrist for her.

      Also *hugs* for you if you’re okay with that. It’s hard to go through on the other side as well, so make sure you’re taking care of yourself too.

  10. b said:

    Yes! Stay!

    As I was reading your letter, I was thinking about Chinese artists, who sat around for decades, waiting for the inspiration of what to paint, to appear, and then painted their masterworks. It is hard, the weird, doldrum-y part, where we don’t know what to do. But you have to trust you will. And, in the meantime, you are totally the CEO of your life. You get to do whatever pleases and entertains you most. Please laugh and smile and have good adventures. And cry, and hold someone’s hand, and fall in love, and maybe even just enjoy the beauty of just breathing?

  11. Kandy said:

    No intent to sound trite, but how about sone goalsetting? Is there anything you want to do, see or learn? Tis the season for goalsetting, Mission101 lists, resolutions or whatever. Maybe a purpose (eating Pad Thai all over your city!) would lift this boredom?

    Also not to imply depression is not possible or probable but I can’t and won’t diagnose that or suggest how to address a medical issue.

  12. Lauren O. said:

    I’ve been in your shoes, LW, even though it hasn’t been for a prolonged period of time– just moments where I seem to see my life stretch out in front of me like a long, straight, empty and endlessly trivial road.

    It sucks.

    But it’s untrue. Even if there were such a thing as an endlessly long and straight road, it would eventually run off a cliff into the ocean (to take this metaphor literally), and cease to be quite so boring. And, to be even more literal, before the refreshing dip into the bonny blue sea, think of the scenery along the way! It’s bound to change at least every few latitude lines!

    Also, it’s ok not to feel connected to people. Has there been a time in the past when you have felt more connected to others? If so, consider that connected-ness might perhaps come in cycles or waves, and that you’ll feel that connection again. To keep with a nautical theme, this might just be a low tide…

  13. Larenxis said:

    I know most people don’t apply their analytical mind to Fraggle Rock like I do, but I really recommend watching this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpwFMkyTN2k&feature=player_detailpage#t=220s

    Your friends aren’t disturbing the balance between life and death; the way they care for you and you care for them is fundamental. Wanting to not cause them suffering isn’t hampering you from making a choice, it’s informing you about your choice.

    • no fraggle rock for murikans

  14. Rinna2412 said:

    From someone who was in the…passively suicidal club:

    There is no way to make your suicide anything but a terrible grief and burden to your friends and family.

    There is no way to “make them” understand.

    The reason I remained wishful about death rather than actively pursuing it was because I couldn’t bear to imagine my sister when she heard about my suicide. As much as I didn’t want to live anymore, it was more important to me to not cause that grief to her. And, as others have pointed out, *not* killing yourself today is a temporary decision.

    And I’ve been on the other side of things, crying and shaking with fear because my brother had threatened to kill himself. It was three years ago and just thinking about it still makes my heart race.

    Look, in my heart of hearts I still believe that life is objectively pointless, that the only meaning our lives have is the meaning we give it. And work sucks and paying bills sucks and I might never be debt free. But because I love my spouse and my siblings and my parents and relatives and friends, I try to imbue my life with enough meaning to keep my head above water. Because I’m going to Ireland in the summer, and I have never been there. Because my best friend is going to have a baby and I want to teach her all sorts of things. Because one day, my spouse and I will travel to Barcelona. Because in two weeks, I have choir rehearsal. Because tomorrow, I plan to listen to a piece of music that will move me to tears.

    And those things–usually small, but sometimes large–are enough to keep me kicking. The anti-depressants are the little floatie things on my arms that help keep me afloat, and therapy the lifeguard that saved me from drowning when I didn’t want to swim anymore.

    So could you hold off for a little bit, for the ones who love you? Maybe see if someone will help you find a clinic and drive/walk/take the bus with you to set up an appointment? See if there’s something out there that will help you stay afloat.

    • Satchel said:

      Yes. A terrible, permanent burden. My brother committed suicide over 20 years ago and none of us who loved him will ever recover.

  15. nuctesseract said:

    Hey LW,
    Your letter sounds like something I could have written 2 years ago, and right at that moment the logic of commiting suicide seemed completely sound. But please believe all the commenters here when they say that not killing yourself is totally the way to go. Because 2 years ago I was in a depression so deep that when it finally went away it was like the sun came out.
    Depression doesn’t mean that you feel sad all the time. You can definitely hang out with your friends and have a good time and still get home and think “this is it? pointless. why am I even still here?”.
    I’m not trying to diagnose you over the internets. I’m just saying that I have totally felt that way for over a year and I couldn’t remember what it felt like to NOT want to die. I am so glad I didn’t, not just for my friends and family, but for me because living is way better then nothingness.
    You don’t have to stick around for the Pad Thai (in fact, you shouldn’t because Thai food= the worst), but you should stick around to discover what you will like.
    Life is not going to play out like you think it will. I can promise you that with all certainty. It will be infinitely more awesome and awful and amazing than you think it will.
    Find a therapist (that you like! super! important!). Get some drugs, or not! Your choice! Or just talk to a level headed friend that you like and trust and ask them what they think.
    Like I said, that was two years ago, and right now I am broke, sick, and stressed, but you know what: I am so fucking grateful to be here everyday.
    Ultimately living is just temporary but death is, like, forever. No backsies or do-overs.

  16. Allison said:

    Captain, you wrote “You can call yourself a sociopath (and maybe you are), but what if you’re just depressed?”

    Did the LW refer to themselves as a sociopath in the original letter? It’s not in the post and it’s a bit off-putting to see the LW being assigned a label/diagnosis that they did not attribute to their identity.

    • JenniferP said:

      The subject of this person’s email was “How often to potential sociopaths ask you for advice.” You would have no way of knowing that, of course, but it comes straight from the letter writer and I’m actually trying to honor her own description of how she feels. Sorry to be unclear. I edited the post slightly to make it more explicit.

  17. AMM said:

    I won’t try to diagnose anyone over the Web, but I will speak from my own experience.

    My experience of wanting to kill myself, which has been an on-again, off-again thing all my life, is that it is something that covers up an awful lot of pain, especially pain which I was (or am) unable or afraid to look at. Or pain that had been with me for so long that I could not remember or even imagine what it was like not to have it, so it didn’t even occur to me that it was pain. What it did was to take away the psychic energy to deal with the ups and downs of life and cast a shadow over even the stuff I enjoyed.

    To the extent that my experience is relevant to yours, I would guess that the lack of caring, the emotional distancing, etc., is a result of successfully distancing yourself from that pain (whatever it is.) You can’t feel joy or pleasure or enthusiasm if you can’t also feel pain.

    The problem is that it takes a lot of guts to face that sort of pain, and you almost always need the help of a good therapist, as well. Unfortunately, most therapists aren’t all that good, and even among the good ones, only a few are a good match for you, so finding one requires going through a lot of mediocre and ill-fitting ones.

  18. “Wait,” by Galway Kinnell

    Wait, for now.
    Distrust everything, if you have to.
    But trust the hours. Haven’t they
    carried you everywhere, up to now?
    Personal events will become interesting again.
    Hair will become interesting.
    Pain will become interesting.
    Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
    Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
    their memories are what give them
    the need for other hands. And the desolation
    of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
    carved out of such tiny beings as we are
    asks to be filled; the need
    for the new love is faithfulness to the old.

    Wait.
    Don’t go too early.
    You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
    But no one is tired enough.
    Only wait a while and listen.
    Music of hair,
    Music of pain,
    music of looms weaving all our loves again.
    Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
    most of all to hear,
    the flute of your whole existence,
    rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.

    • swevene said:

      Thanks for this, it’s lovely.

    • Andrew Bird does a beautiful rendition of this on one of his Bowl of Fire albums. And now I know the source! Thank you.

  19. Rydra Wong said:

    I think it’s worth noting that the LW isn’t currently suicidal. She just says that it’s a possibility that she might kill herself at some point if her life ever becomes unlivable.

    So while finding a good therapist sounds like an excellent idea, the “call a suicide hotline! go to hospital now!” advice seems misplaced, unless I’m misreading badly.

    I have a track record of severe, treatment-resistant suicidal depression; it’s a real possibility that if the illness recurs badly enough, I may kill myself at some point in the future, whatever present-me feels about that possibility.

    As someone who is inevitably living with the possibility, I don’t think the hypothetical possibility of one day committing suicide is the LW’s biggest problem here. Not being able to feel connected to people (even though she cares enough to want to spare them pain), not particularly caring about living — those are the biggest problems.

    And they’re ones that can be addressed. Whether it’s with therapy, other treatments for possible underlying issues like depression, existentialism, or something else altogether.

    If nothing else, figuring it out could be a very interesting challenge.

  20. L. said:

    I’ve struggled with depression on and off for years, and there have definitely been times when suicide looked pretty good to me. But when I was a freshman in high school a family friend who was a couple years younger killed himself, and it changed everything for me. I only saw him occasionally, so we weren’t close, but twenty years later I still miss him, think about him, have seen what suicide does to those around you, realize how very final that decision is.

    My thoughts are scattered, but a few things:

    1) Commenters are so right that apathy is often a marker of depression, just as much as feeling horrible. However, I also think AMM is right on that apathy often covers pain, and that it this can be hard to unpack and confront. (I think this is why you chose the pen name you did.) But that doesn’t mean you should, just that improvement may take a few tries, or at first be gradual and at first hard to discern.

    2) Commenters are so right that getting older dramatically changes the goodness of life. I am 35 and life is as good as it’s ever been, and continuing to improve. That’s not to say that you have to wait until 35–but that time brings healing and change, and the ability to welcome both of these things in.

    3) On my darker days I still think about death as a relief after a lot of hard work. I am not afraid of death, and I think what comes after will be either neutral or good. But you know what? No matter how challenging is, life is still (unless you believe in reincarnation, which I don’t think I do) our one shot. Even the suffering and the difficulties are rich. Death is forever, who knows what happens then, but this is your one time on this earth to explore feeling, being human, the pleasures of the body and the soul, everything from smelling flowers to hiking mountains to reading a fantastic book to being warm and cozy in bed on a cold winter’s morning to laughing at a Captain Awkward column to all of the harder things like physical pain, illness, shame, embarrassment, anger, grief, you name it. And stuff in between, the weird complicated puzzling parts of being human that are almost impossible to put names to. All of this is always bracketed by death at the end. I fail, I am imperfect, I suffer, I am angry, I’m not always a good person, but I am going to live my life as fully and as best as I can because I will never get it back if I throw it away. Life is a gift, even the hard parts.

    You need to hatch out of your shell, probably with help, and find ways to begin feeling again, scary as that may be. Give it time.

    Definitely don’t kill yourself.

  21. LW, you need to remember that unless you are currently in an overwhelmingly awful situation, there’s no reason to think of suicide as something you have to make a decision about right now.

    There are all sorts of reasons to live, big ones and small ones. I’ve spent half my life seeking out and clinging to all the small reasons I can find. I don’t know how long it will be enough. Right now I’m in a bad situation and kind of taking it an hour at a time. I guess this comment isn’t very helpful. But keep looking for even small things that bring you happiness, and try to cherish your ties with the people who love you.

    I guess the best advice I can give you is to decide that you aren’t done yet. You mention being an altruistic person; maybe finding something you can do that will bring more good to the world will give you enough purpose to say “I’m not done yet”. I don’t have enough information to suggest anything more specific. I’m going to be the contrary voice and say you don’t have to rule it out as an eventual exit strategy, but there is so much in the world that you haven’t seen or done, and killing yourself means you won’t be able to do them. So while you’re hopefully getting more useful suggestions from others, my advice is to just wait until you’re sure you’re DONE, and that NEW THINGS KEEP HAPPENING, so there’s no rush to check out.

  22. maggie said:

    “There are stories in the middle of unfolding, don’t you want to know how they end?”

    Oh man, when I used to feel like that (not really wanting to die, but not really wanting to live, either), I’d think about how sucky it would be if something totally amazing happened in the future and I’d killed myself without seeing it.

    If you don’t much care either way, it seems just as easy to go with life. Eat a lot of tasty food and look at pretty things.

    (Also, I am now diagnosed as depressed, and I didn’t realize it either. It was a lot of apathy, and some feeling sad, and fatigue.)

  23. Lis said:

    LW, you say you might commit suicide if my life gets too unpleasant, painful, unlivable, or just too boring.

    I am not a therapist yet, but I’m training to be one, and oh, LW: you say “boring” but that’s not boredom. Boredom is being stuck at a bus stop for an hour without a book or cellphone. It really sounds like what you’re describing is like emotional suffocation–you can feel the little things, but the big, grand emotions way deep down are stuck in wax, unable to move or breathe.

    I’ve worked with people who have felt like that, and so often what that suffocation is is being scared shitless of being able to actually feel. Boredom is a slow death–but dear God, it’s so much better than opening up to the giant, scary, hurtful world outside. Somewhere along the line everything just got too much for them, often for reasons they can’t even name, so they turned the emotional volume down waaaay low. Very little registers anymore, good or bad, since you can’t just turn off the bad emotions and leave the good ones intact. It’s emotional anaesthetic.

    I am NOT all anti-anaesthetic, by the way. It’s not some character flaw. It’s a survival tactic, an adaptive trait. It’s what’s kept you alive so far. But if it’s carried you to this place and now you’re going, “Hey, this numbness and boredom is really fucking irritating” then maybe it’s time to try disassembling it. On the other hand, if you try that and everything comes down on your head and it’s way too much? SHIELDS TO 100%. Do what keeps you alive; finesse can come after.

    So IME the way to get out of that suffocating nervelessness, to be with people and not have an invisible wall keeping you from feeling anything, is to be vulnerable and open, to be hopeful and ready to experience the world outside what makes you safe. And if one has been emotionally numbing for years, opening up can be difficult and, yes, dangerous–dealing with emotions is a skill that must be learned through painful experience. When you take off your armor, you’ve got to make sure your skin doesn’t come with it, because everyone has some degree of emotional buffering, just to help them survive. (This is why the first few weeks of anything that changes your mood, whether drugs or therapy, carry a slight increased risk of suicide: some people look at all the shit they’ve been trying not to feel and go, “WELP, I’M OUT.”)

    I’m pretty obviously a big fan of therapy to help with this process, but there are a lot of ways to do it, whether you feel confident enough to DIY, enlist a spiritual/religious practice to give you guidance (I’m Catholic, so the readings every week are basically, “This week, we focus on THIS emotional issue!”), or anything else. Actually, our good buddy Brene Brown’s books are good, even though they’re ostensibly about shame and vulnerability.

    I hope any of it was useful, and good luck!

  24. volcanista said:

    I fully concur with the Captain’s advice, which is pretty spot on. I’ll add to the other comments that staying alive out of a sense of obligation to others is at best a short way to tide you over until you can do the real work of sorting this out–relationships can be fragile and fraught, and that reason is too mixed up with guilt to rely on for long. There are far better reasons, I promise. Sometimes it does take a while to find them.

    Also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWWxJwRGT8w

  25. Chi said:

    I’m seconding what the Captain said, especially the part where this sounds like a treatable psychiatric condition. If you have insurance/can afford it, maybe give talking to a therapist a whirl? It couldn’t hurt anything.

    As for your actual question, though, I can feel you on all sides of the situation. I had a partner threaten/attempt suicide, had a friend actually go through with it, and have been suicidal myself. Believe me when I tell you that there is nothing you can do to make it okay for your friends. Distancing yourself won’t help, because they’ll feel like they should have “been there” for you more. Telling them won’t help, because even if they send you off somewhere to get help and you still go through with it they’ll be hurt and sad that everything they could do for you didn’t work. So, the first thing you need to do is make peace with the fact that the action of killing yourself would have inevitable consequences of screwing with the people close to you.

    So, now you have two choices:

    1) Don’t kill yourself, because shuffling off this mortal coil is just not worth all the pain and suffering it’ll cause your friends. This isn’t the same as the choice to kill yourself being taken away from you. You are choosing not to kill yourself because you don’t like the consequences.

    2) Decide that it’s okay and worth it to cause your friends that kind of pain, because not living anymore is just that important to you. But why would it be, since you said yourself that you don’t care that much about anything?

    Like Captain Awkward, I’m totally on Team Don’t Kill Yourself – this is just the way I rationalize it to myself when I don’t even feel like living anymore. I hope it helps you, too.

  26. Everyone has wiser and more profound things to say above, so I will just go with make lists of things you wish you could do – not like, a bucket list, that you check off and when you’re done you kick the banana stand. But like, things to look forward to!

    Examples to get you started:
    CA’s example of Sherlock
    The Arrested Development movie – oh, it’s happening!
    Meeting new awesome people you haven’t met yet
    Future love, sex, hugs, kisses
    Christmas/birthday/whatever presents
    Watching friends’ kids grow up into actual people
    Attending weddings of couples you know
    Seeing all the countries!
    Reading all the books!
    Eating all the weird foods!
    Holy crap what are those crazy Kardashian bitches going to do next?
    ZOMG they cured [big deal disease]!
    How will they handle Kurt and Rachel’s graduation on Glee?
    Who will be president of the US this November?
    What about that whole Mayan end of the world thing?
    How does Walking Dead end?
    Space tourism
    Seeing how your friend’s stupid tattoo gets worse as she ages
    New Adele CDs
    Finding that long-lost childhood toy in the attic!
    More amazing Captain Awesome posts

    Adjust for your interests, of course. I know when I get depressed I focus on the negative, as do we all. When I look for good things, though, I do find them. And if you’re so blessed as to be bored, you probably have some unremembered good things lying around somewhere.

    Best wishes and Jedi hugs in your search.

  27. At my most depressed and anxious, I also became pretty convinced that I was a sociopath. People would tell me sad or scary things, and I would know the expected response, but I was unable to empathize. And then I would feel terrible about myself.

    After getting on some better meds and out of a grad program that was destroying my soul, I am way less depressed and anxious, and I am able to empathize at least as much as most other people.

    So, I’m pretty sure that I’m not a sociopath, and my therapist concurs. She describes what I was experiencing as being totally shut down, and I think it’s a pretty accurate description of what was going on with me, and possibly what is going on with the letter writer. Being shut down is exactly what is sounds like. When I’m super-anxious, parts of my brain just don’t work the same way because I’m so focused on surviving whatever’s going on, and one of the things that I lose is that ability to feel empathy and connection with other people (amongst other things). For me, this tends to coincide with some pretty hardcore avoidance behaviours (like not leaving the house for days on end), because I cannot deal with any extra emotional stress.

    Also, one of the other super fun things that I do when I get really depressed and anxious is construct logical arguments for why I am the worst person ever, why my life is super terrible, and why nothing is ever going to get better. What’s scary about these arguments it that they make sense, and if anyone tries to argue with me, I can respond rationally. The problem is that these arguments are based on a totally skewed version of reality, and that’s where depression can be super sneaky and fuck with your worldview, even when you don’t feel sad.

    Another thought — lacking empathy is only one of the traits that is strongly associated with sociopathy. Sociopaths are also characterized by glibness, impulsivity, compulsive lying and manipulation, and amorality (going off of what I remember from the DSM V, where I believe sociopathy is considered a subset of anti-social personality disorder). I am not a doctor, and even if I were, diagnosis through internet advice columns is never a good idea. I’m just gonna say that these traits don’t come through in your letter. You might also want to consider if this is part of being depressed. Sociopathy, and other personality disorders on that axis, are extremely stigmatized, and sociopaths are generally reviled. To characterize yourself as a sociopath suggests some pretty serious self-hate to me.

  28. darthtrina said:

    All I can share is my experience spending time many years before with a suicidal friend, almost exactly the day this letter was posted. We were at work and she tried to give me some of her belongings, told me she planned to kill herself with cyanide from one of the rooms in the lab where we worked. Not sure what to do, I called my own personal therapist and we came up with options: call 911 (problem: friend’s English skills) or I stay with her until her husband returned to the office in a few hours. I stuck to her like glue, empathizing, distracting her away from the chemical cabinet, and reminding her how much she still could learn and do here. I know if she had succeeded even in making the physical attempt that day, I would have never gotten over it. And I was “just” a friend, not her daughter or her sisters or her parents.

    So please live. People you don’t even realize think about you or like you will be devastated.

    • JenniferP said:

      Holy moly, I am so glad you stayed with her that day. That’s superhero stuff. I hope she has gotten some help and will be ok.

      • darthtrina said:

        I know she was doing fine as of 2003, four years after. Her husband returned that day and said, “I don’t care if she kills herself,” which made me wish I had called 911 and insisted on a native language interpreter other than her spouse. And also I would have maybe pushed him through a glass window if he weren’t able to fire me. The rules are 2 years before you can divorce your American asshole and stay in the country; she filed for divorce at 2 years and a day, I believe.

        Thank you, although I don’t feel like a superhero. At the moment it was just something I had to do. I am great at being calm and doing the mostly right thing in an actual emergency, while fully capable of freaking out about hypotheticals and minor trivia (missing keys or gummi bears).

        I used to feel guilty admitting this, but I think in some way that day was almost all of what I had left to give her; we didn’t keep in touch much after I left the company. Now I think that’s not the worst thing ever. It’s cliche, but sometimes people are just in your life a short while.

%d bloggers like this: