It’s the most common question I get any time I speak about my experience with mental illness. “Were you suicidal?The short answer is no. But the short answer is an incomplete answer. The truth is far more complicated. I did not want to be alive. That is not the same as wanting to die. On many days, during the darkest depths of depression, I felt sad, gloomy, tired, heavy, and weak. But the magnitude of these manifestations didn’t stop at not being in the mood to talk. Depression would sneak up on me after work from grinding out 8-9 hours of professional conduct and social interaction. Why am I so tired?  I would sit on the couch and turn on the TV, listlessly watching while doom-scrolling on my phone. The sun would descend as the hours passed. I would still be in most of my uniform. The hell with changing my clothes, I’m not seeing anyone today. Evening would come and I’d realize I hadn’t eaten since lunch. I’m not hungry, I’m fine. As the living room succumbed to the night, I wouldn’t turn a light on. Why bother?  I would think I should shower before bed, but the thought would be exhausting. I didn’t even sweat today. I’ll be fine. A reasonable hour to go to sleep would arrive. Some nights I would get up and sleep in my bed. Other nights I would just stay on the couch. The next day would come and I’d think of reasons to stay home before restarting the process. I should just tell them I’m sick. By the end of the week, there were no more resources left to function with. I would wake up on my day off. The sun would rise but I wasn’t interested in it, so I’d draw the shades and get back under the covers. This might be the most poorly understood and heavily stigmatized part of depression – I didn’t stay in dark, quiet rooms because I felt like being dramatic. There was nothing romantic about that kind of darkness. The act of consuming an image was exhausting. Consider that the eyes don’t actually see anything, the brain sees what the eyes transmit. But my brain was far too busy scraping for the energy to continue functioning. To receive and store more information can feel impossible for a mind that’s entirely destitute of energy. When the most basic mode of existence took the maximum effort to sustain, it became extremely difficult to convince myself that the labor of life was worth continuing, and I couldn’t come up with any more options. Does this mean that I wanted to die? No. I hated existing. That is not the same thing. Suicide is not selfish. It is horribly misunderstood.

Out of 47,000 suicides in the United States in 2019, men accounted for 37,000 of them. The majority of them died by a gunshot to the head (say what you will about us but we are terribly efficient). The numbers have risen in most years in recent history, and we haven’t even talked about the Covid-era numbers. Coroners have earned their pay on our dime. We must understand the gravity of this reality that we – men – can’t seem to stop killing ourselves at a rate that far surpasses those of other biological makeups. Following most suicides, we exclaim that we don’t understand how anyone could leave their friends and loved ones behind in such grotesque fashion. It isn’t an easy concept to grasp, and considering how bad dead people are at answering questions, it is even more difficult to get answers. But we must stop kidding ourselves for once and admit that we absolutely could understand if we got out of our own way. It’s unnerving when seemingly solvable problems prompt someone to consider dying, but can become easier to understand the same way we can understand that a glass that’s full to the brim will spill with a single drop more. Life, however, is not so delicate with its distribution of suffering. Someone in an exorbitant amount of pain will not be spared because of their lack of available mental resources. Inevitable suffering and loss will come, swallowing the afflicted person and drowning them in discontent. Maybe this doesn’t suffice for understanding how someone could put deep thought into suicide and still go through with it. When considering how many ways the body has of instinctually not dying, it’s still reasonable to wonder.

"It isn’t an easy concept to grasp, and considering how bad dead people are at answering questions, it is even more difficult to get answers."

In order to examine what we don’t understand, we need to take a step back and consider the broader concept of killing. I am of the firm belief that everyone has a line that, if crossed, they can understand, condone, justify, or carry out the killing of another person. Whether for the survival of yourself, a loved one, or some grander principle, there are many good reasons to kill. All of them, on some level, come back to survival. Even using lethal force to keep someone from slaying a stranger could be applauded. Murder, in all of its ugliness, can be understood. Suicide, enjoys no such understanding. It runs contrary to our biological principles and serves no useful end. The fundamental means by which humans have dominated the earth (administering and evading death) cannot be served by suicide, disturbing us down to the most primal and existential depths. Most of us spend our lives attempting to prolong its duration. Even the most tenacious of us hope for a death that is far enough from the present that we can ignore its imminence, pleading with any deity that will listen to allow for an uneventful exit. Suicide aligns with none of this.

"Murder, in all of its ugliness, can be understood. Suicide enjoys no such understanding."

When mental illness is understood as a parasite on the mind that hijacks brain functioning, suicide becomes less outlandish. A morbidly afflicted person doesn’t want to die. They want to alleviate suffering and cure the disease. Suicidal ideation also comes with a contagious toxicity. Whether real or perceived, the projected angst reflects at them just as a jovial persona can sew joy. It feels as if the perceptual condition can be passed on to anyone within speaking distance, further validating the idea that not only is the suicidal person worthless, but depletes others of their value, sickening them by simply existing around them too noticeably. Such an existence doesn’t leave many options when existence itself becomes so problematic. Consider the common suicidal expression of “I wish I’d never been born.” This doesn’t express a desire for death but regret at being alive. We cannot use these concepts interchangeably. They are different in the same sense that being dead and having died are not the same. Fictional characters, for example, are not alive but they have not died. The most preferable existence when feeling suicidal is not one that ends either easily or painfully but is fictional altogether, alleviating the burdens of others to participate in an existence the suicidal person wishes was optional to begin with. In other words, you wish others had the option of not perceiving you. This option would relinquish the guilt derived from imposing your presence which you’re convinced is inherently disruptive. If others had the option of unburdening themselves of the entire concept of you, you could possibly try to live with yourself. But once your existence has been acknowledged, there is no going back. You exist. And that’s a problem.

"A morbidly afflicted person doesn’t want to die. They want to alleviate suffering and cure the disease."

Doesn’t such horribly introspective self-loathing then make suicide inherently selfish? This is a complicated question that is typically answered with a dangerous lack of nuance. While there is logical merit to answering in the affirmative, it does not lend properly layered context. Suicide can only be considered selfish if you ignore the reality the suicidal person inhabits. This posthumous indictment is a ruthless projection of grief, damning the soul of the dead and maintaining a perspective that the lethal experience of isolation still didn’t justify enough of their own importance. It is not wrong to be angry or to process tragedy with a sufficient level of cruelty. Dismissing suicide as selfish, however, completely misses the point. Suicidal thoughts frequently do include consideration of loved ones, concluding that the suicidal person’s existence is so ruinous that the loved ones would be better off once they’ve finished grieving the loss. This is a warped brand of logic, but it is logic nonetheless. Suicidal logic does not aspire to survive, it aspires to cure. This does not transfer the responsibility of getting help away from the suicidal person. It establishes an empathetic foundation of understanding. To condemn suicide as selfish assumes that the reality in which they dwelled was the same as those around them and subject to the same processes of decision making. But depression, as well as many other afflictions, are perceptual problems. The depressed brain does not see what others see. Sometimes no amount of love will suffice to properly color the lens.

The problem of suicide is, indeed, far more elaborate than this. It is, at least, possible to make sense of suicide in a way that is more useful than what we have. We cannot cling to incomplete maxims of grief and call it caring. Suicide might look like the easy way out to someone who has never attempted to override every impulse we have to survive. Suicide does not become retroactively easy for the suicidal person because the loved ones are without them to feel the grief. That grief was felt while still alive, mourning existence the way we mourn their death. While we are embedded within our social structures, the suicidal person does not feel they are a part of those structures no matter the level of involvement in them, or responsibility to them. Death does not become the easy thing, but the dutiful and necessary thing. The moment we superimpose our expectations upon the problem of individual perception, our logic becomes incomplete. We fail to learn the truth when we set our ceiling of understanding so low. Are we banished to such undeveloped modes of thought? Absolutely not. Understanding suicide is not easy. Refusing to understand it is fatal.