Monday, March 29, 2021

Death Wish

Here's something no one ever talks about, but which is critically important: the subtle but enormous difference between being suicidal and occasionally (or even often) wishing you were dead and/or fantasizing about death. 

From the moment we're born, the saying goes, we are dying. Death and self-awareness of death are a feature, not a bug, of the human condition, and yet death remains taboo. Few people seem to get this. Almost no one (not even your therapist) wants to hear you say: "No no no. Let me EXPLAIN. I don't want to KILL myself! I just want to be DEAD sometimes. See?" 

Awkward silence.

No. No, they don't see. They put their fingers in their ears and sing "lalalala," or perhaps write heartfelt and well-intentioned texts asking if you're OK, or if you're seeing a therapist, and interpret your macabre musings on the Joie de Mort (TM) as a Cry for Help (TM).

Ok first of all, of COURSE I am not OK. No one is OK. Not really. I am not now, nor have I ever been, OK. And of course I am seeing a therapist. Anyone who can see a therapist should, because really, life is one long, difficult struggle punctuated by thin slivers of incandescent joy that hopefully suffice to create a sustainable bridge from one crippling misery to the next. To the extent I'm crying out for help, I'm only doing so in chorus with everyone else on earth, and then only just by sheer dint of existing.

Yes, this is dark I know. But I am a Russian Jew. My epigenetics are dark and hairy.

Anyway, being suicidal and fantasizing about death are two very different things. People are uncomfortable talking about the latter for fear it will lead to the former, but that's really not true. At least not for me, and I'll use myself to illustrate the point.

For as long as I've been alive, I've dreamed of being dead. Sometimes these dreams felt like a wish, sometimes like a curiosity, but never an intention to actually kill myself. 

Since I'm not religious, I've always assumed death is a lights-out type situation where you return to whatever state of sensory-deprived blankness you existed in before you were born. Wherever you were when that daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln was taken. That place. I come by this line of thinking honestly: my mother was an orphan by 11; her parents' deaths from cancer mysterious enough to propel her to a career in medicine that she calls a "mission," and that she continues to practice at almost 76. 

Like me, my mother is an atheist. We used to walk hand-in-hand, wending our way through old weedy New England graveyards on summer vacation, pointing to the tiny, weathered headstones of the babies who perished from rubella and other now extinct diseases (thanks, vaccines!)

I'd wonder in these moments what it was like to be a little baby 150 year-old skeleton underground in Vermont. Later I would read about famous literary suicides: Sylvia Plath with her head in the oven. Virginia Woolf weighted down by her own mind and the stones in her pockets, walking step by step into the frigid River Ouse until her petticoats billowed up around her elbows and she sank down to the muddy bottom, finally freed by the water's current from her debilitating depression. The soft dive of oblivion. The sensory deprivation tank of eternity.

How easy, I think, and yet how incomprehensible would it be to do this! To step off the building's ledge and watch the asphalt with its white crosswalk stripes rush up to meet you. To jump down into the cavern of the Brooklyn-bound A-train. To walk into the river. To swallow all the pills. The sheer impulsivity and irrevocable consequences of the act stand in such stark contrast to the long effort and investment that goes into living and constructing a life, that the paradox seems unfathomable. 

I know people whose parents and/or children have committed suicide. Since I am both a parent and a child, I would never in a million years commit suicide. More than anything else, it's my guilt and sense of duty to the people in my orbit and the causes I care about that prevent me from voluntarily submitting to the sensory deprivation tank of eternity. 

But that doesn't mean there aren't days and times I have not wanted to be dead. To the contrary, there have been many such times. 

Accidentally copying someone on an email they shouldn't see. The day I was unconstitutionally fired. Being in childbirth. Every time I have to read something the State files in my lawsuit. Responding to Reply Guy (TM). Every couple hundred times someone tries to shame me on the internet. When Jared Angel (almost not his real name) refused to hold my hand in 8th grade. Yes indeed, there are many such times. There will be many more between now and What Lies Beyond (TM).

I did 23&Me. Having long ago relinquished any claim to personal privacy, I happily paid a dystopian corporate gene farm $181.99 plus tax to harvest my DNA only to learn about rando Aunt Phyllis in Boca and that I was carrying a "variant" (the PC term for "mutation," I guess) for Parkinson's disease. They said I have a one in four chance of getting Parkinson's instead of the usual 1 in 100. My scientist cousin told me that while the mutation variant was real, the data extrapolated from it was not.

I was disappointed. 

Part of me leaped ahead--again in my mind--to the later stages of my inevitable and brave battle with Parkinson's; from the part where I'm co-hosting a benefit with Michael J. Fox in a ballgown to the part where I'm too demented to distinguish my own excrement from a Twix bar. The part where my life just spirals into one long, confusing acid trip in a pair of Depends that becomes someone else's problem to change.

Might that be easier? Easier, I mean, than just continuing to plod through life hour by hour with my proverbial boots in molasses? Day in and day out, suffering every possible indignity, most self-inflicted? From being called "unsuitable" in a federal court case to being back-sassed by my children to checking my spam folder to being unable to match a single sock to its mate in a seven-foot pile of laundry? 

Well, yes. It would be. It would be a lot easier. But the only real choice is the harder one.

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