Why Do You Choose to Live?

Actor Robin Williams. Fashion designer, Kate Spade. Aaron Swartz, a prodigal computer programmer, political organizer, and internet hacktivist hung himself at 26 years old. In 2017, it’s estimated 1.4 million of U.S. attempted suicide, and over 120 a day actually succeed in killing themselves. Suicide is the 5th leading cause of death globally, after cancer, car crashes, and HIV.*

Clearly living is a choice we all make every day we live.

Almost 4,000 of U.S. will consider suicide today. Have you? I have. Not once or twice during hard times, and in passing, but many times throughout my lifetime, from my tween years, likely till I die. Yet, virtually daily, I make a conscious choice to stay living.

I don’t believe in any higher power than the laws of physics. There is no “Jealous God” (Exodus 34:14) watching, or judging our behavior from ‘beyond’. There is no heaven or hell. I’ve never been able to pretend we are more than the collection of cells that make up our bodies and consciousness. I can choose to go hang myself in the doorjamb of my office after I finish writing this blog without fear of damnation. The only eternal soul we possess is humanity’s hope that we matter past our limited time alive. But we don’t. Not really, beyond our affect on the lives we touch while we are living, like our family, and a handful of friends and colleagues. Even if you’ve done DNA ancestry, other than their genetic contribution to your existence, your dead lineage are names in a ledger, nothing more.

Too dark a view for ya? It ain’t depression. It’s reality, and a scary one knowing that regardless of what we believe, our life adds up to what we DO with our short time of awareness.

Individually, we really have very little effect on, well, anything beyond our small realm. Even those who have ‘made it,’ like the opening list of celebrities, most will be forgotten over time, and lost to later generations. And we’ll never even know the names of most innovators, especially women, who invented the tech we use today.

For the religious reader, this blog probably isn’t for you. I’ve likely lost you in the opening bit, as suicide in most sects is a ‘sin’. If you are a true believe, it is equally likely you won’t off yourself. The only reason to continue reading is if you want to help someone who seems like they may.

How do you know if someone is suicidal? You don’t, and likely won’t. Each of the above celebs were either flat out rich, wealthy, or at the very least financially ‘comfortable.’ So, it wasn’t poverty that drove them to suicide. They ‘made it’ doing what they loved, instead of a lifetime at some crappy job just to pay the rent. Yet, each made a choice to die. Why?

Every day I make a conscious choice to keep living, but a lot of days the choice to stay is hard. Very hard. Some days, hope drives me with purpose, that I can make a positive contribution to those I touch. But other days, on days where it feels as if I reach no one, or I get nothing done, or humanity is doomed to our own stupidity, hope abandons me.

Give it up. Walk away. Stop trying so hard. You’re getting nowhere. If there is nothing beyond death, and what I do doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things, then why not just check out, be done. At times, my life feels as if it defaults to the mean of hardship, and I obsess about exiting the scene, fading to black.

How do you stop the voices of fear, either before they ramp, or even after they do, when you look up from your laptop to notice you aren’t breathing? I think of checking out, conjure my exit strategy. I imagine I’m taking pills, or maybe going into the garage, turning on my car and rolling down the windows.

What stops me?

I picture coming on to the oxycontin, or choking on carbon monoxide, then throwing up, then blacking out. Then nothing. Ever again. No awareness, no consciousness once the neurons stop firing. No taking it back. No second chance. No waking up. Feel nothing, ever again. Or I try and feel what it feels like to feel nothing, but obviously, this is an oxymoron. Living and feeling are synonymous, as are death and nonexistence.

When I’ve lost all belief in myself, my work, my world, I’m left with only one reason that keeps me here. Regardless of how lost I feel, how insignificant, how hopeless, I hold on to the one truth I know is real.

Every day I make a conscious choice to stay living—to FEEL.

Living is all about FEELING—glad, sad, mad, good, bad, proud, humbled, jealous, accomplished. And the list goes on… I get to feel them all, and many more throughout my lifetime, expressed in a thousand ways. Enjoying chocolate mint ice cream while watching TV. In awe of natural wonders. Heartbroken with loss. Swooning in love. From the physical to the surreal, we all get to feel—experience being alive.

Strip away the religious sales pitch that rewards us for charitable behavior, in exchange for an eternity in paradise. Ignore the social pressure that tell us our value lies our physicality, or our job title, or the acquisition of wealth. Let go of the pretense we are going to make a substantive difference to anyone beyond our small circle of connections. And the point of living becomes to feel the moments of our life.

Death—feeling nothing ever again—will come, regardless if I hasten it. The permanence of suicide becomes daunting when I consider I’d never get to taste anything again. I’d never see, smell, or feel rain on my skin, or someone hold my hand. If I take my own life, I kill even the possibility of change, and finding ways to enjoy more moments of my brief existence.

I teeter on the edge of suicide when all reason and purpose has abandoned me. But you can help me during these times, or others who stand at precipice of ending their life. When I’m consumed by doubt, black and sticky, pulling me under, please don’t tell me to “Hang in there, it’ll get better.” It feels like bullshit in those moments of darkness. With empathy, simply remind me to FEEL.

*American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2018

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Kate Spade, 1962 – 2018
Anthony Bourdain, 1956 – 2108
Aaron Swartz, 1986 – 2013
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