We were lying in bed together in 2005, talking in both generalities and specifics about depression. I talked about mine, he talked about his friend T’s, and then he told me about T’s suicide.
“Listen,” he said to me. “No matter how depressed you get, please don’t kill yourself. It’s the most selfish thing anyone can ever do. T killed himself without thinking about how his friends and family would feel after he left. I was so angry. I’m still angry. Don’t ever kill yourself.”
It was the first thing he said to me that made me wonder if we maybe weren’t right for each other. It made me think he didn’t really understand the nature of depression. It made me think, there is nobody on this earth who, when faced with the kind of depression that makes one want to commit suicide, would decide to stick around because they wouldn’t want their friends to think them selfish or because they thought suicide might mean that they’re a failure.
“Okay,” I said. What else could I have said to my boyfriend? The truth?
“The truth is that I’ve thought about suicide before.”
“The truth is that it’s technically impossible for me to give you a guarantee that I won’t ever kill myself.”
I’ve read The Broom of the System, half of Girl With Curious Hair, and about 1/50th of Infinite Jest, and I plan to try the latter again soon. On the occasion of David Foster Wallace’s suicide, I’ve been reading the Metafilter thread about him. Someone posted this, an excerpt from Infinte Jest:
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
He’s right, you know. I understand why suicide feels like a selfish act to the loved ones who are left behind, but it isn’t. Depression is a disease just like any other–its effects are no more a choice than the effects of other chronic illnesses, and its sufferers don’t relish the prospect of death.
I’m sorry to see you go, David Foster Wallace, but it’s okay with me if you’re not sorry.