Tag Archive | thoughts

Suicide is Not For the Coward

So the lead singer of alternative rock band Linkin Park is in the news, because he killed himself by hanging. While I haven’t liked Linkin Park since their first album, and since I was in the 9th grade, a lot of people are coming forward to call Chester a coward for committing suicide, primarily because it means he left six children behind.

Regardless of whether you approve of his choice, it is stupid, and a horrific misrepresentation of the situation, to call someone a coward because they killed themselves.

Suffering is Relative

First, it must be pointed out that suffering is relative, and none of us has any insight into the inner turmoil within anyone else, and so none of us have the authority or information to accurately assess whether the person chose the “easy” route of suicide and was wrong to do so. We simply don’t know–because we can’t know–how a person feels, unless they tell us, and Chester did come pretty close to that, through his lyrics. These lyrics, incidentally, were those that angst-filled teens adored and identified with, because their own internal suffering was reflected back to them. But that isn’t really important.

Courage & Cowardice

I know many people who have “attempted” suicide. I’m among them, and the scars on my wrist bear it out. I was hospitalized in a behavioral ward several years ago because of it. Even after extensive research, I still didn’t cut deeply enough to hit the veins–no, seriously, the veins in your wrist are much deeper than you’re thinking–and I didn’t have any guns at the time. Today, I know a scary amount of information about suicide. Because of this, I’m well aware that the recent old Republican who “killed himself” with helium actually did commit suicide, and that there couldn’t possibly have been any foulplay. I know that, because I once owned a helium tank for exactly that purpose.

But I never did it.

Why not?

Because, as a method of suicide, it’s almost instantaneous. There is no time for second thoughts. Once you exhale and lower that bag over your head, that’s it. You pass out, and about half an hour later, you die, unconscious. I’m simply not struggling with depression badly enough to pursue that en sincera. I don’t want to die.

With very few exceptions, that is the same thing that nearly everyone who “attempts suicide” decides. There’s a reason that successful suicide rates are low. It’s not an easy thing to do. Substantial biological programming and the desire to survive outweigh most forms of depression, and, even when the depression is heavier, the person must face head-on their fear of death.

Anyone who has ever sat there with the barrel of a gun in their mouth, the blade of a razor against their wrists, a noose around their neck, or any other such situation and who still lives faced their fear of death head-on.

And they buckled.

They can make all the excuses they want. They can say that they realized that they were loved. They can say that they realized their problems would pass. They can say any-damned-thing that they want. But I know it, and they know it: the reason they live is that they are cowards. They stood on the precipice of oblivion and feared to jump, and so they backed away from the cliff. Some of these people are now calling Chester a coward because he didn’t back down from the precipice of oblivion.

Are you kidding me?

An Animal’s Instincts of Self-Preservation

There is tremendous resistance to death. Anyone who has seen wild animals chew off their own limbs (or humans saw off their own limbs) to escape from deadly situations knows that there is a powerful Will to Live inside every organism. Humans and non-humans are capable of incredible things in the interest of self-preservation, something that modern “horror” movies love exploiting for shock value. Put two people in a room together and tell them that one of them must kill the other, and then the survivor will be free, and they will almost immediately attempt to kill each other (Fun note: this is what Nietzsche described as Middle Class Morality). Saw off their own leg? No problem, once they have pursued other options.

Here’s a cold, hard fact for you: almost everyone out there–at least 99.999% of people–would cry and beg profusely as someone else lowered a noose around their neck. They would do anything, say anything, and promise anything to be spared. Disgusting amounts of tears and snot would run down their faces as they panicked, prayed to every god they could think of, and begged everyone nearby to “Please, I’ll do anything…” These are the same people calling Chester a coward because he lowered the noose around his own neck.

It would be funny, if it wasn’t true that, evidently, that’s how they see it.

There is an enormous difference between “thinking very hard about suicide” and gathering the means to do it, and actually proceeding with it. Even if the attempt is a failure, there is such an enormous gap between “thinking about suicide” and “legitimately trying to kill oneself” that most people can’t even fathom the divide.

It’s the same divide that exists between people who imagine how brave they would be if they faced down a criminal with a gun, and the people who have been there, and who gladly handed over their wallets and were terrified. Fear, after all, is what keeps people alive. It’s what kept human beings out of the darkness where there were lions, wild dogs, and hippos. That same exact fear keeps people from putting the gun in their mouth and pulling the trigger. It’s easy to say “I could have. I would have. I just changed my mind.”

In fact, it reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer says he’s going to build “levels” in his apartment, and Jerry bets him that it will never happen. In the end, Kramer renegs on the bet, and says that Jerry didn’t win, because, “I could have done it. I just didn’t want to.” Jerry vainly attempts to remind him, “That’s the bet! The bet is that you wouldn’t do it.” Kramer again reiterates, “But I could have.” Frustrated, Jerry says, “The bet wasn’t that you couldn’t. The bet was that you wouldn’t,” but it’s to no avail.

This is what people are saying when they say that they could have committed suicide, and they would have–if they hadn’t considered the loved ones they were leaving behind. The loved ones that they remembered were the panicked product of innate biological tendencies within an animal to preserve itself because it was afraid. It doesn’t matter what their reason for changing their mind is–why were they considering such things in the first place? By that point, they are already second-guessing whether they want to commit suicide. What propelled that? What caused them to stop and think about anything instead of just taking the gun, putting it in their mouths, and pulling the trigger? Why weren’t they just thinking about that?

Because their brain was desperately afraid and trying to stop to them using the last tool it had at its disposal. Compelling one to stop and think about all the loved ones being left behind is how it does that.

Anyone who ever attempted suicide–or “thought about” attempting suicide–and who still lives is a coward. They stood on the edge of the precipice, and they backed down. They can offer up any excuse they want, but, at the end of the day, what stopped them was fear. There’s no other reason why they’d have stopped to consider loved ones in the first place. That’s the brain’s last defense mechanism against self-destruction.

Consider this: the person who is about to commit suicide and stops because they think of the pain and suffering it will bring the loved ones left behind are aware, at least in some ways, that the fact that they even care about the pain and suffering they’ll leave behind will vanish the moment they’re dead. Sure, “If I commit suicide, I’ll leave behind so much pain and suffering.” Yet, also sure, “But I’ll be dead, so… there won’t be even a single solitary second of my existence where I feel the pain of having left people behind by killing myself, because I’ll have killed myself.” They didn’t think about that, though. I’d bet that thought didn’t occur to the overwhelming majority of people who attempted/thought about suicide. And why not? Because their brain was looking for ways to talk them out of it, not looking for ways to talk them into it.

Thoughts & Control

We tend to think of “our thoughts” as something we control, and our brains as something that is fully at our mercy, and that’s simply not true. Sentience is a curious thing, but your brain absolutely does things to try to convince “you” of things. The human brain is countless parts communicating with one another, not some collective unit that the “I” controls. You’re breathing right now–you are not in control of that. Your heart is beating right now. You can no more make your heart stop beating than (and this is important) you can make yourself stop thinking. You don’t control your thoughts. A thought comes when it wants to, not when “you” want it to. When some part of your brain decides to generate it, that’s when the thought occurs. You can no more create that thought than you can stop it. It’s coming. The only choice you have is how “you” deal with that thought. Whatever you are thinking about when the clock strikes noon after reading this, you won’t have any power to prevent.

The “I” takes these thoughts coming in from various parts of the brain, and assembles them into some form it can process, and then makes a decision. Maybe the “I” can control the decision that it makes, and maybe it can’t, because the decision itself is merely a product of the information sent to it by thoughts that it cannot dictate–it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the “I” doesn’t control what thoughts come, or when those thoughts come. Even extensive training by Buddhist monks cannot allow one to indefinitely take control of what thoughts come, or when those thoughts come. However focused the Buddhist monk is, and however in control of their thoughts they are, the moment they have to get back to life, they surrender control back to other parts of their brain. What will they think about while they slice potatoes in the monastery? While they till the ground?

You can do it, too. Think about an elephant, and try to keep thinking about an elephant. How long does it take you to realize that you’re not longer thinking about an elephant? Your thoughts will stray–a conga line of random thoughts perhaps not even related, until finally you’re thinking about John McCain’s brain cancer and realize, after forty seconds, “Oh, shit, I was supposed to be thinking about an elephant!” and direct your thoughts back to a pachyderm. Try to keep that elephant in your mind all day, as you go about work, as you eat lunch. You can’t do it. No one can. It requires exhaustive energy and focus to control one’s thoughts, and it simply cannot be done for any substantial period of time. You may think about the elephant several times an hour throughout the day, but through those instances, you’ll think about colleagues, food, friends, family, driving, money, and countless other things that you can’t control.

Those thoughts of loved ones that the person contemplating suicide has… They can’t control those thoughts, either. The question we have to ask is why the brain generated those thoughts. Why did some part of one’s brain conjure up an image of a son or nephew, and say, “But look how sad he’ll be…” and create vivid imaginings of the future of that child, raised without his father or mother? We can find the answer easily, by asking “What did the conjuration of those thoughts achieve?”

Well, it achieved causing the “I” to back out of committing suicide.

Why would a part of the brain want that?

Because it’s afraid of losing existence.

Conclusion

Maybe you don’t approve of what Chester did. Maybe you think it’s screwed up he left his family behind, and maybe you just think that suicide is immoral (I’ll save that for another day). Maybe you’re more like me, and you don’t really care one way or another, but you’d like it if there wasn’t so much confusion and misunderstanding surrounding suicide. Making the statement, though, that Chester was “wrong” to make the choice that he did is saying “He valued release from his pain more highly than he valued the pain he was leaving with others. His values are wrong, and the pain he left others is much greater than whatever pain he felt.”

I hope we can all immediately see what an asinine statement that is.

We don’t know what pain he felt, or what his personal suffering entailed. We can never know what it was like to live within his head and to feel what he felt. We can never know how deeply in That Place he was. Neither can we know how his children and wife/ex-wife will feel about it. We can guess, and we’d be right to some degree when we’d guess “They’ll be really sad,” but we can’t quantify that. We can’t even quantify our own suffering. Ask any person how much hardship and suffering they face and I’d bet wholeheartedly that you’ll see a graph identical to what we’d expect based on the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Everyone will rate their personal suffering and past hardships at 7.5, or thereabouts. I’d love to see a scientific survey done on this. In fact, I’m going to do one.

But if we cannot properly assess the value of his suffering and how bad it was, or the suffering of his family and how bad it’s going to be, how can we justify making the arrogant claim that he was wrong to make the choice that he did?

Study on the Effects of Estradiol, Part 1

Many people refer to me as the most rational and empirical person they know, and that’s a statement I can agree with. Through most of my life, it’s been a specific goal to allow emotions to impact as little of my decision-making as possible. In the course of this, I have entirely eliminated religious beliefs, socialist ideologies, and many other tendencies. Arguments with an emotional appeal have no impact on me at all, and it’s because my emotions don’t impact my position on something. We can see this in the abortion debate, with people insisting that this is a human being that is murdered, and the way that this claim has absolutely no effect on my position. We can also say this in Pro Minimum Wage arguments. “Everyone deserves a living wage!” has absolutely no impact on my position, because I know that an emotional idea like that doesn’t translate into sound policy. An irrational motivation leads to an irrational conclusion.

It’s a key part of Nihilism, in fact, and Nietzsche is often cited as being cold and emotionless–a label that is ignorantly applied to Nihilists such as myself today. This is merely a misunderstanding, however, as I’m more emotional than the average person. Because of emotions, I dropped my entire life and moved 2000 miles a year ago. So when I say that I don’t let emotions impact my decision making, that’s not true; I merely don’t let emotions affect my beliefs and conclusions. Nihilists are as emotional as anyone else (and in my case, perhaps more emotional); the difference is that a Nihilist carefully and rationally controls what their emotions are allowed to influence.

I didn’t do a podcast last night, and there’s a good reason for that. Aside from the fact that I got distracted by some transphobic douche on twitter, the truth is that I was terrified.

A few weeks ago, I began watching “creepy” videos on YouTube. Things from people like Mr. Nightmare and other notorious channels; horror movies have always been something I’ve loved, and I’ve watched probably thousands of such videos on YouTube with no ill effects whatsoever. However, I recently found myself unwilling to even turn on a light at night. The only light I would use was my bathroom light, for some innate fear that any other light would effectively serve as a beacon to “whatever is out there.”

This is very curious, because I know there is nothing out there. When I made the trip to Vegas, I stayed in the very back of a cheap motel in a shady part of Amarillo, and I did it without blinking. I’ve given countless rides to hitchhikers, and that has bitten me in the ass more than once. I used to allow a homeless man to come and stay in my home on cold winter nights. I don’t mention these to make you see me as altruistic, but because all of these are pretty reckless, devil-may-care things to be doing. I could add many others.

I live on the edge of a town. When I say “edge,” I mean exactly that. The property is rural, out of the way, quiet, and private–perfect for a transgender person in an area not particularly kind to transgender people. There is one house nearby, and it is lived in by a normal dude. On the west and north sides, I am surrounded by a field that is bordered by an untamed forest. I have a 38 special and a sawed off 12 gauge shotgun that is exactly the minimum length allowed by state law–I rationally know that I am fine, both because there is nothing out there and because I am more than armed. My shotgun is cradled on a shelf above my bed, and beside it sits a knife.

It’s not paranoia that causes me to do this, but common fucking sense. There’s only one exit from my bedroom–if I get caught in there by some invader, then there is only one way out, and that way out is through the assailant. So I merely have the tools necessary to go through the invader if required. It’s not because I think it’s likely to happen. I have nothing worth stealing, and there are 4 dogs that will make me instantly aware if there’s a human outside. While one or two routinely bark occasionally during the night at deer, coyotes, and wolves that happen to stray too close to the property, all 4 bark at humans. Dogs are curious like that. It’s also worth mentioning that these aren’t my dogs, but they do stay here with me. Long story. But they’re more or less just there.

It’s also true that Mississippi is not particularly friend to gay people, and certainly not to transgender people, and there’s always the possibility that someone learns the wrong pieces of information. It only takes one jackass to half-jokingly say “We should kill that faggot,” and then all of his friends will laughingly agree. The next thing you know, there’s a veritable lynch mob pulling into your driveway. These things happen, and on late nights after a few beers it becomes hard to predict what such people will do. Jokes get carried too far all the time, and peer pressure is the most underestimated force in American society.

But things have changed. I can no longer watch such creepy things and then be okay. It latches itself to something within me and refuses to let go. I have become terrified of turning on a light at night, for fear, as I said, that something “out there” will see it. I verify that all of my curtains are drawn, but I’m not convinced that all of this is to keep people from looking in. I think it’s to keep me from looking out. Because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that any fear and worry that I feel will be dispelled the very moment that I look outside.

It’s like my imagination constructs some creepy-video-informed idea of “what is out there,” and that imagining is allowed to fester until I look outside. It’s almost like that imagining is hesitant to die–abolition of the fear is never more than a few seconds away. Pulling back the curtain and looking is all that it takes, but I can almost never force myself to do it. Because what if…? What if I look and see that the imagined “out there” is what really is out there? What if I peel back the curtain and am met only by a grinning, maniacal face at one in the morning?

It’s that prospect that ties my hands and keeps me from looking, thereby allowing the imagined bullshit to grow to the point where I refuse to turn on lights, where I sit at two in the morning, scared to make a sound, telling my cats to knock off their rambunctious playing. It doesn’t matter that I know there will never be a haunted vestige of the devil himself staring back when I peer out into the world–no amount of reason and rationality can defeat this more primal fear of the unknown, and the obvious behavior of someone trying to shield themselves from the unknown.

This is highly unusual behavior for me. And though I’ve stopped watching creepy shit on the Internet, and though I know from experience that the mind’s hallucinations will steadily decrease until I once more think nothing about turning on the light in the kitchen, it doesn’t change the situation now. There is no doubt that this odd cultivation of primal emotions and irrational responses is a side effect of the hormone therapy, and “increased susceptibility to emotions” is no longer just a random line in an article somewhere. It doesn’t simply mean that I will be more prone to cry in sad movies; it has the very real meaning that I am, for the first time in memory, genuinely susceptible to the fear that there is something in the dark.

There is a really awesome angled mirror above my bed (use your imagination why that mirror is so freaking awesome), and I also have not been able to force myself to look into it–a result, of course, of creepy videos where a subject before a mirror moves, but the reflection does not. I have never had any problem with that, and it’s something I’ve actually pondered extensively because of the odd way that mirrors work. After all, if you touch your ear with your left hand, then your reflection touches its other ear with its right hand. But the same result comes from using the front-facing camera, which is why my guitar videos show a left-handed guitarist despite the fact that I’m right-handed. It’s nothing of significance, and, again, I know that.

But I have no rational control over this fear. No amount of reminding myself that we literally know everything there is to know about the surface of the Earth (underground and underwater still contain some question marks, of course) will erase these fears. No amount of reminding myself that I’m a fucking Nihilist who is more than aware that we live in a rational universe will dispel the fear that something unnatural is out there, not at one in the morning when I have the lights off and am lit only by the gentle glow of a television as I watch something–anything–desperate to take my mind off the fear.

For the first time in… probably twenty years… I am afraid. And I don’t know what I’m afraid of.

And that’s what makes me afraid.