The Mortal Coil

It would seem I’m feeling talkative today.

I was thinking about mental illness and death and how I have always felt lucky that suicidal ideation has never been much of a thing I’ve struggled with. Whatever else is going on with it, most of the time my brain wants to LIVE.

The first time I experienced a bout of major depression was in my teens after my parents separated. Even then, I could never bring myself to self-harm or attempt suicide. I settled, instead, on wishing I had never been born and hoping maybe someone else would put me out of my misery. I used to ride my bike late at night, challenging the universe to send some psycho my way that would take advantage of finding a teen girl alone at night and murder me. (Very melodramatic, I know.) Then, as now, the universe did not even deign to recognize my existence, let alone end it.

During the various lengthy bouts of depression that I experienced in the following years, I was more likely to conjure sad images of dying young, never really having lived, without feeling the impetus to self-harm in the process. My brain actively recoils from the thought of deliberately inflicting pain or harm on myself, just as it does from the idea of deliberately inflicting pain or harm on anyone else.

In 2015, proof of just how much my brain wants to live in spite of depression surfaced in a fantasy I conjured of waking up one morning and finding that literally every single person in the world had disappeared, except for me. Apparently I’d rather make everyone else vanish before I’d make myself cease to exist.

Friends, family, strangers – all seven billion plus humans on Earth gone and the planet all to myself. And with everyone gone, there could be absolutely no expectations or judgement placed on me. Nothing to live up to, no one I could disappoint or fail or be unable to help. I could just wander, and breathe, and do whatever the hell I felt like when I felt like it.

I didn’t come up with anything impressive to do while fantasizing about having the planet to myself. Literally just wandering my local area on foot, getting naked and going swimming, lounging on the grass, being lazy and useless without guilt. But I clung to that fantasy and slipped into it when reality was too much for me, until 2016 unexpectedly brought me six months without severe depression and I no longer felt that urgent need to escape.

Every now and then I’ll have a day where the depression gets bad enough that I feel an urge to walk out the door and just keep walking until I drop of exhaustion, but luckily when that desire pops up it is balanced by the fact that there are people outside my door and during those bad days I don’t want to put myself through the exertion and anxiety of being in proximity to said people. So I stay put and distract myself with whatever I can find that works as a distraction until the mood passes.

My therapist had said she’d hesitate to diagnose me with a mental illness because the circumstances of my life could explain my symptoms. I was thunderstruck, at the time, but looking back over my experiences and reactions over the years the evidence does rather point that way. I mean, I’m still technically mentally ill if I’m experiencing severe depression and anxiety, but it’s more like being sick because of exposure to an environmental toxin versus being sick because of a genetic abnormality.

I don’t think suicide is unethical or immoral. I suspect that if I were ever diagnosed with a terminal illness and the pain became bad enough, I might look into assisted suicide. I don’t find the idea of being dead frightening. It’s the process of dying that can scare the shit out of me when I think about it, especially if my exit might be painful, and lengthy enough for me to have to spend time with said pain.

The idea of some kind of continued existence after death is kind of nice when you step outside asshole punitive religious afterlifes. No afterlife, on the other hand? Well, if I simply cease to exist altogether I won’t care. I literally won’t exist to be able to care about anything and that blankness isn’t frightening to me, though I’ve observed it’s definitely quite frightening to some other people.

So I don’t fear being dead – I fear failing to live – failing to be able to enjoy my existence while I have it. I’m thoroughly glad that whatever part of my brain is responsible for regulating my desire to exist continues to work.

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