Trying to plumb the depths of suicide in order to understand the “why” of it has consumed people for centuries. A friend recently shared a book with me that I heartily recommend on the topic of suicide. It is Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, by Kay Redfield Jamison. Dr. Jamison is well qualified to speak on the subject, having attempted suicide at the age of twenty-eight.
Her writing style is both lyrical and visceral. She holds this topic, that is usually cloaked in shadows, underneath a bright light so that we cannot mistake what we see. It is unblinking and unflinching in its breadth.
If you have questions about suicide, read her book.
If you have thought or are thinking about suicide, read her book.
If you someone you care about has been touched by suicide and you don’t know what to do to help, buy this book as a gift for them.
Below are some quotes from her book.
(this link will take you to the book on Amazon) Night Falls Fast, by Kay Redfield Jamison
“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.”
“It is tempting when looking at the life of anyone who has committed suicide to read into the decision to die a vastly complex web of reasons; and, of course, such complexity is warranted. No one illness or event causes suicide; and certainly no one knows all, or perhaps even most, of the motivations behind the killing of the self. But psychopathology is almost always there, and its deadliness is fierce. Love, success, and friendship are not always enough to counter the pain and destructiveness of severe mental illness ”
“Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy ”
“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete ”
“The awareness of the damage done by severe mental illness—to the individual himself and to others—and fears that it may return again play a decisive role in many suicides ”
“I wish I could explain it so someone could understand it. I’m afraid it’s something I can’t put into words. There’s just this heavy, overwhelming despair – dreading everything. Dreading life. Empty inside, to the point of numbness. It’s like there’s something already dead inside. My whole being has been pulling back into that void for months. (81)”
“…Time does not heal,
It makes a half-stitched scar
That can be broken and again you feel
Grief as total as in its first hour.
“Looking at suicide—the sheer numbers, the pain leading up to it, and the suffering left behind—is harrowing. For every moment of exuberance in the science, or in the success of governments, there is a matching and terrible reality of the deaths themselves: the young deaths, the violent deaths, the unnecessary deaths ”
“I had tried years earlier to kill myself, and nearly died in the attempt, but did not consider it either a selfish or a not-selfish thing to have done. It was simply the end of what I could bear, the last afternoon of having to imagine waking up the next morning only to start all over again with a thick mind and black imaginings. It was the final outcome of a bad disease, a disease it seemed to me I would never get the better of. No amount of love from or for other people0and there was a lot-could help. No advantage of a caring family and fabulous job was enough to overcome the pain and hopelessness I felt; no passionate or romantic love, however strong, could make a difference. Nothing alive and warm could make its way in through my carapace. I knew my life to be a shambles, and I believed-incontestably-that my family, friends, and patients would be better off without me. There wasn’t much of me left anymore, anyway, and I thought my death would free up the wasted energies and well-meant efforts that were being wasted on my behalf. (290)”
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.
“Look to the living, love them, and hold on.”
“The horror of profound depression, and the hopelessness that usually accompanies it, are hard to imagine for those who have not experienced them. Because the despair is private, it is resistant to clear and compelling description. Novelist William Styron, however, in recounting his struggle with suicidal depression, captures vividly the heavy, inescapable pain that can lead to suicide:
What I had begun to discover is that, mysteriously and in ways that are totally remote from normal experience, the gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain. But it is not an immediately identifiable pain, like that of a broken limb. It may be more accurate to say that despair, owing to some evil trick played upon the sick brain by the inhabiting psyche, comes to resemble the diabolical discomfort of being imprisoned in a fiercely overheated room. And because no breeze stirs this cauldron, because there is no escape from this smothering confinement, it is entirely natural that the victim begins to think ceaselessly of oblivion. (105)”
“Conditions of thought, memory, and desire, persuaded by impulse and irrationality, are influenced as well by personal aesthetics and private meanings.”
“Everyone has good cause for suicide, or at least it seems that way to those who search for it. (74)”
“Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of a life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete. (73)”
― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide