Thoughts on OCD and Suicide

by Matt B. on June 8, 2014

There are two reasons I’ve never thought seriously about suicide. The first is that I’ve never been in quite enough pain – I always believe, at some level, that the fever will break. But the second is that killing myself would wreck my parents.

It wouldn’t even take suicide. My mom has long told me that if anything were to happen to me, she’d “be a basket case.” Knowing this – or believing it, anyway – has made it impossible for me to turn and face suicide – and death more generally – squarely. I don’t feel like suicide is an option, morally speaking, and that’s always made me a little resentful. I learned self-condemnation at the feet of my mother – herself a victim of these dark arts – but the thought of trying to escape the cycle only intensifies it further. Suicide is one more rule that I’m not allowed to break.

This, of course, is how OCD works day-to-day. I suffer nearly constant fears of one kind or another. In an effort to keep my intrusive thoughts at bay, I’m forever imposing new statutes on myself. (The last time you typed without your wrist guards, you felt some pain in your right ring finger and worried about it all day. No more typing without  wrist guards, then – not even a quick email!) ‘No’ becomes my watchword, ‘yes’ a sign of self-defeating recklessness. I stuff my life into smaller and smaller spaces to try to escape from the enveloping reek of pain. In doing so, though, I trade that miasma for thinner and thinner air.

Suicide is the logical extension of this approach, the infinite finitude at the end of the path. It’s also perfectly counter-productive, like realizing that I’ve painted myself into a corner and then erasing myself entirely. In other words, it feels short-sighted, and therefore self-indulgent and melodramatic. (I don’t mean in general, of course. Who can know what other people suffer? But for me.)

Still, I’ve often been afraid that I’ll do it – that some impish impulse will steer the wheel into the oncoming semi.

It’s a common fear, but, in my case, a fairly unrealistic one. After all, I don’t have strong urges to hurt myself, and I have no real history of self-harm. To be more precise: I’ve hurt myself, but only inadvertently, and only in the confusion of OCD-driven reactivity. During my sophomore year of college, for example, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of damaging my eyes, and I did everything I could to ensure that nothing touched them. Sometimes, though, I became so sick of my own vigilance that I would rub them feverishly, discharging the built-up anxiety in dozens of tiny revolutions. (And in doing so, creating floaters in my vision and even more anxiety.)

Regardless of how bad I feel, then, death holds no appeal – something in me wants to live. But this doesn’t entirely soothe my nerves. Riding around on my motorbike, I sometimes become afraid that I’ve detected a slight jitter in my hands. Ruthless worries scale the walls: will the imp act up before I have a chance to stop it? (Does this happen to people – that they get it wrong, that they leap off buildings and find themselves surprised as they’re falling?)

This isn’t how the imp works, of course. It’s just a thought, not a mugger with chloroform. But I’m afraid anyway.

 *          *          *

I do want to continue living, but I’m not sure that I can say what I’m living for. There are some things I’d love to experience – publishing a book and going on a book tour, relating with those who share these experiences and expressing them to those who don’t. Finding a long-term partner, each of us making the world less lonely for the other.

If I died without ever knowing these things, I think there’d be a sadness, a sense of unfulfilled potential. But I don’t quite think of them as goals or make-or-break features of a well-lived life. Things just seem to move along, and living longer is simply more motion. In other words, I suspect that the stillness at the end of that motion will feel arbitrary and nonsensical whenever it happens. But perhaps that’s because I’m still young and can’t fully fathom the naturalness of slowing down.

*          *          *

I only began to love Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude when the characters began to die. It wasn’t just that I wanted to finish the novel, and it certainly wasn’t that I didn’t like them. It’s that their lives only began to take shape and make sense to me in retrospect – as the arc became clear, as it stopped being just one fucking crazy thing after another.

I skimmed past Márquez’s magic. I wasn’t interested in the gypsies’ flying carpets or the general with seventeen sons or the lover who’s accompanied by butterflies. I just wanted normal shit. And in the end, the characters’ deaths – all deaths? – are just that. As fantastical as the circumstances may be, there’s something more basic at play – the coming of a reckoning, a mirror reflecting everything that’s come before and lending each life its singularity.

Right now, the prospect of dying feels random and absurd; when I imagine it, a pointless feeling spreads over all the suffering I’ve experienced. But if death were to step out of its fearsome garments and become real – if I were to receive a diagnosis, say – I’m not sure it would actually feel like that at all. In fact, I suspect that that feeling of pointlessness would disappear, and that things would line up – that there’d be a sense (if not a rationale) to things. That the end would create – and complete – the arc. It was like this, I might say. What other words would do?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen Synchronicity June 15, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Compassion comes with Wings

Stephen Synchronicity June 15, 2014 at 12:35 pm

May this picture post correctly

Matt Bieber June 19, 2014 at 9:41 am

Hey Stephen,

Spent a long while talking with some friends about the different ways we might read this photo, and we came up with some really interesting stuff. More than anything, though, it seemed to me that you were offering warmth and encouragement, and I felt them both. Thank you, thank you.

Valar August 26, 2015 at 5:32 am

Oh god, suicide. So tempting to blow my diseased brain across the room – kind of like taking revenge on it for all the shit it’s put me through. But I do believe that at some time, the fever will break, and I will experience this sense of ‘absolute safety’, as they say about the awakened state.

Matt Bieber August 29, 2015 at 11:35 am

And in the meantime, I want you to stay around, brother.

Valar August 29, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Thanks. “Absolute safety” – the words of Shinzen Young – it’s something that I cannot comprehend. I can’t understand how it could be. But those all-too-few teachers who are actually willing to talk about enlightenment all say the same thing. I think the traditional taboo against frankly discussing enlightenment is not useful, and even harmful.

Matt October 13, 2015 at 5:48 am

I suppose it’s also a question of *whether* it can be described. But man, I wish there were more descriptions too!

Valar October 13, 2015 at 10:58 am

Adyashanti has talked about this. He says the idea that it can’t be described comes from the age-old taboo that exists in all the Buddhist schools about discussing one’s level of realization, attainments, etc., apparently due to the concern that one will become arrogant, etc. But all this has done in the West has created a tremendous amount of confusion and many people who are unmotivated to practice because they have no reason to think it’s worth it.

Adyashanti himself provides wonderful descriptions of the enlightened state, or at least, the closest one can come in words, he says.

Matt October 13, 2015 at 8:57 pm

Thank goodness for Adya.

Valar October 13, 2015 at 11:22 pm

Here’s one: after his initial awakening, he said all fear completely dropped away. Not in the sense of ‘no fear of being hit by a bus’, but all fear based on psychology. “All fear that anything or anyone could harm me psychologically or emotionally in any way was gone.” That is of course where OCD derives all its strength, from the fear that your thoughts or someone else’s words could hurt you.

Such a state is inconceivable to me. But, since I recognize I’m unlikely to be a great meditator or yogi in this life, and probably don’t have Adya’s ridiculously good karma, I’ve developed a keen interest in the following:

I really believe that such technologies are going to result in a radical and profound shift in the way we approach mental health and general well-being in the next few decades or so, and I’m involved in a group in a nearby city that meets to discuss developments in this field, which are coming at a furious pace. It does help keep my hopes up.

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